Bright Stars Presented by M&T Bank Shined for Hundreds of Easterseals Children and Families

jonLast night (Feb 14), Easterseals hosted our signature annual family event – Bright Stars Presented by M&T Bank – featuring Disney on Ice at the Capital One Arena.

Hundreds of children and their families from the Easterseals community came out on this special night to PLAY together and watch an enchanting ice skating performance from their favorite Disney characters. They were also excited by a special appearance from Woody and Jessie of Toy Story, and even Mickey Mouse, at the pre-event VIP reception where many of our guests’ children were treated to face-painting, balloon animals, a caricaturist, and a special Disney photo booth.

For children like Portland Raynor, who lives with a rare neurodevelopmental disorder called HADDS, being at Bright Stars gave her and her family a wonderful opportunity to just have fun and take a break from the everyday challenges of living with a disability or special need.

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Portland and T’Mia Raynor with Mickey Mouse at Easterseals Bright Stars at Disney on Ice Presented by M&T Bank.

Portland attends our Child Development Center in Washington D.C. and learns new skills every day with the help of our wonderful teachers and amazing therapists. Check out her story on WUSA9’s Great Day Washington recently, which shows how she is thriving from our early intervention services and the opportunity to learn in an inclusive classroom setting.

Click HERE to watch the full story.

Military families served by Easterseals also attended the event and were more than thrilled to meet the Disney characters and enjoy the show.

The Pattersons, mom Kristina and her husband Scott, who is on active duty in the Navy, receive 40-hours a month of respite care to help them with their two sons. six-year-old Daniel and four-year-old Micah, both of whom have special needs. The Respite program gives much-needed relief from their caregiving duties so they can manage their own well-being.

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Kristina, Daniel and Micah Patterson with Woody and Jesse at Bright Stars at Disney on Ice Presented by M&T Bank.

In addition to being a super-fun evening for so many families in our community like the Raynors and Pattersons, Bright Stars also helped us raise more than $282,000 to support all our programs that make profound, positive differences in the daily lives of people of all ages with disabilities, special needs, military backgrounds, and their families.

Thank you to all our generous sponsors and donors! A complete list of our Bright Stars sponsors is available HERE.

The fundraising for the event was led by Bright Stars Committee Co-Chairs Cecilia Hodges of M&T Bank and Craig Ruppert of The Ruppert Companies, and Founding Bright Stars Committee Co-Chair David Ross of Atlantic Realty Companies. Their hard work and dedication to Easterseals ensure that our innovative programs and services continue to be available to families who need us the most.

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Thanks to our amazing team of volunteers from M&T Bank!

I’d also like to personally thank M&T Bank, our Presenting Sponsor, who has not only donated generously to Bright Stars for seven years in a row but has also helped staff the event with a team of enthusiastic volunteers every year.

Also, special thanks to our media sponsors – iHeartMedia, Washington Business Journal, WTOP and WUSA9’s Great Day Washington – for all their help in getting the word out about Easterseals and the Bright Stars event. Co-host of Great Day Washington Kristen Berset-Harris even joined us at our reception to emcee the event!

Even though this year’s Bright Stars event is over, the need for Easterseals services does not end. Please consider making a donation to Easterseals today so we can continue to shine like Bright Stars for our community every day.

Click HERE to make a donation!

[Part 1] A Conversation with Jon: Redefining Disability and Creating Hope

jonThis year, Easterseals celebrates 100 years of service to community members living with disabilities or special needs, including military families. Over the last century, Easterseals has evolved from serving only children with disabilities (where we started as the National Society for Crippled Children). We now support all children with high-quality early childhood education and intervention, provide medical and social day care services for adults with disabilities, work with veterans and individuals with special needs to secure meaningful employment, offer respite relief to family caregivers, including those in the military, and give veterans and military families a safe place to come for mental health services regardless of their ability to pay.

In essence, Easterseals has become an irreplaceable resource for our community.

Last year, Easterseals unveiled a new logo and a revitalized brand. The rebrand reflects the evolution of disability in the 21st century—going beyond the physical to include invisible, emotional, social and educational challenges. The new brand addresses these important shifts by bringing clarity to the crucial services Easterseals provides across the lifespan.

As we reflect on what milestones we want to set for the next 100 years, I would like to share some insights on how that journey might unfold. I’ve asked our Communications department to help compile some questions that might be of interest to our community. And I hope my answers will reveal why Easterseals staff and I are passionate about the work we do.

In this three-part interview blog series, I’ll share my thoughts about the meaning behind Easterseals’ definition of disability and hope. I will also talk about why veterans are an important part of the Easterseals community. And lastly, I will touch on why inclusion is important to society and how we plan to innovate to stay relevant to our communities and help those who most need Easterseals services.

For this blog, I will focus on why we want to redefine the definition of disability and why creating hope is such a powerful idea.


Q: Easterseals wants to change the way the world defines disability. How does Easterseals define it?

What I often see is that people see another’s disability before they see the person and the abilities that person has. I often talk to my friend and board member Juliette Rizzo, who is highly educated and a former Ms. Wheelchair of America. She shared the difficulty she experienced when she was looking for a job. Even with a great educational background, she felt people could not look past her wheelchair when she was pursuing job opportunities.

Watch Juliette Rizzo discuss why she supports people with disabilities.

I think we have the opportunity to change that perspective and get people to see the person and their abilities, and not only the disability. We, at Easterseals, believe that the key to changing mindsets begin with childhood, which is why we focus on early education and inclusive environments where typically developing children are exposed to others with disabilities and special needs. They are observing that even though their friend might need help with something, there are actually lots of things he/she can do, including being a good friend. Starting really young is a very important step.

Today, supporting people with disabilities is more about empowerment and helping them achieve what they want to achieve. For example, in our medical adult day care centers, we practice person-centered care. This means NOT saying, WE know what is best for YOU, but rather we take the time to learn about each individual’s interests and goals, then we work with that individual to provide activities aligned with his/her interests or goals.

We also apply this person-centered approach when working with people in our employment programs. The Veteran Staffing Network and Easterseals Disability Staffing Network help individuals consider their experience, skills and interests, and then we ask: what do you want to do? What do you want to achieve? How can we help you reach that goal? I think it really boils down to one of our core values—respect.

Q: Part of Easterseals’ vision is to create a hopeful community where people can achieve their potential and live meaningful lives. Why is that important?

To me, it really ties back to the way people are defined by their disabilities and working to change that. What creates hope is when we can help people realize their potential and when we can make families feel their loved ones are getting the support they need. Creating hope for society makes for a better world to live in.

Marti and family at Bright Stars
Marti and her family at Bright Stars Night at the Circus.

A good example of this is with one of our ambassadors, who came to us as a young child with Down syndrome. When she first came to our child development center, her parents really did not have a lot of hope. Last year, I was reflecting with her mom and she was saying when Marti was born, she recalls all the doctors telling her doom and gloom scenarios – that her daughter wouldn’t be able to do this or that. Then she came to Easterseals and it was the first time she felt hope for what her daughter COULD DO. Now her daughter is in college.

Creating hope for our participants is also important because it helps them believe in themselves and the things they want to achieve. That’s how it should be for everyone.

Q: What does hope look like for our Adult Day Services clients, many of whom have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?

Many of our participants with Alzheimer’s disease are not usually aware of what is happening around them. In those cases, we are not only providing a safe, caring environment for them, but also giving their caregivers hope and support. Statistics show that caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients tend to have higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses themselves, and have higher mortality rates. Caring for a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is extremely demanding, and for many caretakers it can feel all-consuming. Allowing us to help them care for their loved ones, allows them to care for themselves a bit.

For all of our participants, we provide them with a safe, warm and welcoming environment that they look forward to coming to. And we found that when participants feel joyful, amazing things can happen.

We had a participant name Beth, who came to us while she was already a part of the Montgomery County hospice program. Her husband Roy told us she was expected to live for less than 6 months. Her family chose Easterseals because they didn’t want to put her in a nursing home. They wanted to care for her at home in the evenings, but needed some kind of support during the day. They were really looking for a partner in care.

Hanna with Beth's painting
Beth’s granddaughter, Hanna, poses with her painting.

The amazing part about Beth’s story is that there was a phase in which she couldn’t speak, but she still wanted to participate in activities. Beth really loved art, especially painting. When her daughter was pregnant with her first child, Beth painted a picture  that everyone was convinced was a picture of a baby in a womb. She showed through her painting that even though she couldn’t speak, she knew what was going on. Beth actually ended up living for about 2 years—way beyond what was expected. That’s the power HOPE can have on individuals.


More of “A Conversation with Jon” will be available in our March blog post where we will talk about why veterans are an important part of our community. For more information about Easterseals life-changing programs for children, adults, veterans and military families, please go to our website at

2018 Year in Review

jon2018 has been a fantastic year. We achieved some ambitious goals and launched new programs, and we couldn’t have done it without the incredible support of our donors and partners.

Our biggest accomplishment for the year is the completion of our All Thrive Campaign. Through this comprehensive campaign, we raised $40.4 million in a little over five years. Thank you again to all our supporters for making this possible!

These funds helped us expand our critical programs to serve more people of all ages with disabilities and special needs across D.C., Maryland and Virginia. However, even though we are at the end of this campaign, it is really only the beginning of the next phase of our work where we aim to ensure that every one of us has the resources necessary to live, learn, work and play in our communities. There is still so much to do and your continued support is needed even more.

We are also especially proud of milestones reached over the course of the year, which have helped 6,500 individuals and their families achieve their potential and live meaning lives in a very personalized way, whether it was receiving speech therapy at one of our Child Development Centers, enjoying a trip to a museum organized by one of our Adult Day Centers, or securing meaningful employment through our Veteran Staffing Network.

All these programs and more are how we serve our community on a day-to-day basis with the overall goal of making profound and positive differences in people’s lives every day. With that said, I am happy to share a more expanded look of what we accomplished in 2018.

Have a Happy Holidays and looking forward to continuing our work in the New Year!


For more information about Easterseals services, please go to our website at

EDSN Leads the Way with Disability Employment

jonIt’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the theme is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All.” Easterseals Disability Staffing Network (EDSN) is the social venture employment agency that matches people with disabilities with a wide range of private sector employers, and aims to empower individuals with disabilities to obtain competitive and meaningful work that we launched this summer.

To recognize the importance of empowering people of all abilities, and to educate about the benefits of an inclusive workforce, two members of the EDSN team have shared their personal experiences, and their roles in educating employers and helping individuals with disabilities find meaningful employment.

Vera Damanka is the talent acquisition manager and she spends most of her time reaching out to potential employees, whether through job fairs or partner organizations that provide services to people with disabilities. She has been living with a disability since she was a child and working since she was 14 years-old. While in college, she developed a passion for advocating for more resources, support and accommodations for students with disabilities. By the time an opportunity to work with EDSN came along, she was ready to take on the challenges of actively placing her fellow peers with best matched employers.


Timothy Kirkendall is the business development manager at EDSN and he spends his time building partnerships with private businesses and educating them about the importance and benefits in hiring individuals with disabilities. A former law enforcement officer, veteran, and U.S. Marshal, whose disabilities started developing after serving in Afghanistan, he understands the challenges wounded warriors and individuals with disabilities face when trying to seek meaningful careers. After learning to live with his disabilities and reevaluating what service he could still offer society, he discovered a strong calling towards veteran and disability advocacy.

Q: Why did you choose to work with EDSN?

Vera: I came through a referral from Program Director Deirdre Bulger. We’ve known each other for more than 3 years when she was a disability services coordinator at the college I went to. We previously worked very collaboratively together, since I ran a peer support group for students with chronic illness and disabilities. When Deirdre came to me with the opportunity, I was actually working at the time. However, I was already craving to have more of a direct impact on people in my work rather than being scripted. EDSN seem to be a good opportunity for me to be able to share my own story, so I could empower other people to be able to work competitively.

Timothy: Prior to EDSN, I worked for the Maryland State Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), helping veterans secure a variety of benefits from disability to education, and other services provided by the VA. I found the work to be challenging, but eventually left to find other opportunities around veteran advocacy. I previously met members of the Veteran Staffing Network, who I connected with through LinkedIn, and when I started communicating to my contacts that I was on the market to continue my work of supporting veterans and people with disabilities, I was told about this new position that opened.

Q: What can you share with us about your disabilities? 

Vera: Primarily, I deal with a lot of neuromuscular disabilities with symptoms that mimic an extreme form of fibromyalgia. I previously used a wheelchair to get around campus because the muscle disease was pretty debilitating, but now I use a walker. I also have a few issues with my heart and vascular system, and now also have very bad migraines.


Timothy: My disability is a pretty wide range from having been in combat. I was diagnosed with PTSD, and other subsidiaries that come with that like depression and anxiety, which I have learned to cope with. Also, because of an accident that happened in Afghanistan, I’ve injured my neck, my spine and have bone spurring up and down. I also have a degenerative disk disease in my cervical spine, which has led to some neurological conditions like shaky hands or losing feeling in my arms. Sometimes I also have joint and knee problems. You could say, this car has definitely got some scratches on the paint and miles on it. For my disability, I feel it is important to put it out there because once we make it normal to discuss these kinds of things, it will no longer be viewed with a stigma and fear.

Q: Why is the work of EDSN so important?

Timothy: There are so many advantages that individuals with disabilities add to the workforce. In fact, one of our biggest selling points about our candidates is that many have developed their own strategies for remaining independent, and they are bringing that incredible thinking skill to your jobs. Vera and I are a great example of how the disability workforce can benefit an organization. It’s also time for a paradigm shift to happen for proactively getting more people with disabilities into the workforce. The ADA was passed more than 28 years ago and we are still having this conversation, which means not enough is being done. I also take the time to educate partners on exactly how Easterseals is able to provide us with reasonable accommodation without that much more effort.

Q: How does Easterseals provide you with reasonable accommodation?

Vera: Deirdre is good about giving Timothy and me the license to take care of our health first. She always says that if you are happy and healthy, then you are going to work harder, and the team as a whole will be a lot more successful. For example, she allows for my schedule to be flexible when it comes to my doctor’s appointments. I have a speech to text software installed on my computer, so I don’t have to type everything, and in general I don’t feel intimidated to ask for additional support that will help me feel most comfortable to be able to do my job well.

Timothy: Deirdre has a very extensive history of supporting individuals with disabilities and is very in tune with anything that we need. She doesn’t just think about those things from inside the box. It’s really up for interpretation and nothing is really off the table with her in the realm of reasonable accommodation.

Q: What are the top questions you get from individuals with disabilities seeking employment?

Vera: The number 1 question I get is: will anyone hire me? It’s heartbreaking because it’s the perception that the world may not see them as employable, and that’s just simply not true. For me, it’s a matter of first helping them identify the employers that are willing to hire people with disabilities and make accommodations. Next, I like to focus on ensuring our candidates’ resumes and professional development skills are impeccable, and that they are confident talking about their skills to employers.

EDSN Job Fair

The second question is associated with the fear of losing their disability benefits when they go back to work, which can be income based. We understand that for them to even qualify for those benefits took a great deal of time, so the risk of losing it due to work is a valid fear. But through the Ticket to Work program, many of our candidates can try out working without the fear of losing their benefits. We also have different work incentives throughout the course of the program, which will help allow for benefits to slowly taper off over time. And we have opportunities for expedited reinstatement of disability benefits, if for whatever reason an individual suddenly needs to stop working without having to go through the entire application process.

The third biggest worry is about accommodation and disclosure of their disability. A lot people don’t actually know what accommodation they need. They just know that they need them, and they don’t know how and when to present an employer with that information. These are the things I go over with candidates when they have their one-on-one coaching sessions.

Q: What’s the biggest concerns employers have about hiring individuals with disabilities?

Timothy: Cost is the biggest concern for most employers, especially small businesses. It’s understandable, but that is why we remind them about the tax credits and ADA compliance. We’ve also had companies feel they were doing charity by hiring an individual with a disability, so why should they have to pay to do charity. I remind them that this is not charity. EDSN is sending a qualified individual who has already been vetted and is ready to do the work. All we ask is that the companies interview the individual and see if they meet the qualifications of the job, regardless of their disability. All our candidates are looking for a hand-up, not a handout.


The other concerns companies have is usually surrounding the types of disabilities our candidates have. We get questions like: how is it going to affect my business? What are reasonable accommodations? With our candidates, companies have to remember that EDSN would have already done the work by vetting these individuals and sending them best-matched candidates. As for reasonable accommodations, we will work with companies to set that up once a candidate has been accepted.  EDSN is not interested in throwing bodies at jobs, but rather building relationships and setting up our candidates for meaningful work.

Q: What kinds of jobs do EDSN candidates qualify for?

Vera: Literally anything. Hospitality, construction, electrician, mental health counselors, career coaches, judges, litigation assistance, network security specialists, IT, and clerical. We have candidates, who have worked previously for federal agencies with top secret clearances to candidates who have been house- keepers for 22 years and want to continue to do that work.

Timothy: As for employers we talk to everyone. I’ve met with Dell and Microsoft, as well as small mom and pop businesses. I’ve also met potential employers in the legal, medical, IT, janitorial, and hospitality industries. That’s the way I like it because EDSN has to have a portfolio that is as diverse as the community we serve, and no one disability or the individuals that have them is the same.

For more information on the EDSN program for potential employer partners, talent, or the Ticket to Work Program, please go to EDSN.ESEAL.ORG.

Shining a Light on Veteran Suicide

For Suicide Prevention month this September, I would like to share an important guest blog from Tracy Neal-Walden, PhD (Col-Ret), Director of the Steven A. Cohen Military Clinic. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and a retired Air Force Colonel with more than 25 years of experience in mental health treatment, leadership, outreach, and policy.

Tracy-Bio2As a clinical psychologist, the topic of suicide prevention has been a central focus of my practice, research, and overall professional interest. However, as a veteran who served in the military for 24 years, I feel it is important to help shine a light on some critical information surrounding veteran suicide awareness and prevention, which can be a complex challenge for many friends and family members of veterans.

Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report on veteran suicide and it stated that approximately twenty American veterans take their own lives every day. Veterans, in general, are 21 percent more likely to take their lives than civilians. But what was most alarming about the report is the fact that over the last 13 years the suicide rate among male veterans increased by almost 30 percent, while for female veterans it increased by more than 62 percent.  Moreover, firearms are consistently the most used method of suicide for both male and female veterans.

To understand the reasons behind the increase in veteran suicide, it is important to recognize some of the risk factors related to suicide such as financial issues, relationship difficulties, health concerns, and legal issues such as DUIs. We also know that the risk for suicide increases for someone dealing with multiple risk factors.

In order to be effective with suicide prevention, it is important that friends and family members are aware of subtle changes that may be happening with someone they think may be experiencing difficulty and who served in the military. You don’t have to inquire about the details, but you could ask, “Are you ok? You don’t seem like yourself.” Alternatively, you can just say, “I know that you have a lot going on in your life right now, but I’m here if you want to talk.”  Moreover, it is important to check back in with the person even after you believe that their issue is resolved. This is important because is it often assumed that someone is doing better because they may appear as if everything is fine.

Another important preventive measure, especially for veterans, is reducing access to means, such as firearms.  If you know of someone, who is at risk, ask if they have access to weapons and help them to find a method to secure it, such as giving the weapon to a friend, securing it and any ammunition at two separate locations, locking the weapon in the base armory, if they have access to one.

To learn more about Suicide Prevention and Awareness, check out the following videos by the Cohen Veterans Network:

On Saturdays, September 29 and October 20, we are organizing a team for the “Out of the Darkness” Community Walks to help raise awareness and funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which supports survivors of suicide loss. More information is available here.

If you know of a veteran needing help, please encourage them to contact The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals at (240)-847-7500. We provide mental health services to any veteran who served in the U.S. Armed Services, including National Guard and Reserves and regardless of role, length of service or discharge status. We also provide services to their family members and regardless of their ability to pay.

Top Five Leadership Lessons from Speakers at the George W. Bush Institute

jonRecently, I was catching up with Dr. Marta Wilson, Immediate Past Chair of the Easterseals DC MD VA Board, and she asked what I had learned in the first three months of attending The George W. Bush Institute’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program.

My first thought was how the program has reinforced for me the power of Easterseals’ recently updated Vision: to create a hopeful, inclusive community where all individuals realize their potential and live meaningful lives. The vision connects with a perspective that the Bush Institute’s Program Director of Health and Wellbeing, Kacie Kelly, shared: the key to reducing veteran suicides is not just providing better crisis care, but rather creating a life worth living. After hearing those words, I knew this program would teach me something beyond better serving veterans and military families, and extend to better serving people of all ages living with disabilities and special needs who turn to Easterseals for support.

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The program also provided opportunities to grow leadership skills. Many lessons from well-respected leaders have resonated with me in the first three months of the program. I want to share five that are useful to any business or nonprofit leader, and more broadly to any person focused on reaching a work or life goal.

  1. Set an intention for the day. During the first session at The Bush Institute, our facilitator Todd Connor, Founder of Bunker Labs, asked us to set an intention for the day. I found it made such a difference that I now have a calendar reminder every morning to set my intention for the day. By focusing on one behavior each day, I make some progress every day!
  2. Focus on developing leaders. Bob McDonald, the Eighth Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Retired Chairman, President and CEO of Procter & Gamble shared the importance of developing leaders. He noted that the success of any organization comes from having enough leaders, and they can’t be minted overnight. It’s a great reminder of the need to provide learning and development opportunities to team members, so they can grow and thrive.
  3. Keep a list of the three most important things. Tom Luce, Founding President of Meadows Mental Health Foundation, shared that one way he’s able to stay focused when things get hectic (when aren’t they hectic?!) is to keep a list of your three most important things in your desk drawer and refer to it daily. It’s a great method for keeping the important things top-of-mind when lots of urgent (and maybe not so important) tasks crop up.
  4. Allow others to have responsibility. President George W. Bush and General Stanley A. McChrystal shared this advice using slightly different language. General McChrystal stated, “We’re most comfortable doing what we used to do and that leads to micromanagement.” And from President Bush, “Responsibility and authority flow together. You can’t say you’re responsible, but I’m making the decisions.” These are great reminders – especially for someone like me who had a different role in the organization before becoming CEO – that people may approach a problem in a different way. And if they OWN solving that problem, that’s better than having it solved my way.
  5. Simplify to understand what’s really important. Travis Stanley-Jones, a veteran and Proprietor of Mulleadys Irish Pub, spoke of how he was overly focused on winning fine dining awards when he first opened his restaurant. This led him to grind down his team. It was only after he stepped back that he realized the overall experience of the restaurant was actually more important to his guests, and that by grinding his team, he was ensuring that his guests wouldn’t have a great experience, even if they got great food. Now, he’s got a happy staff AND great food, and that makes for a great guest experience. Whatever your business, stepping back to ensure you’re focused on what’s really important is great advice.

Please comment to let me know if these ideas resonate with you, or if you have other leadership lessons to share.

Make the First Five Years Count

As we prepare for back-to-school season, I’m pleased to share a special guest blog from L’Ornya Bowie, Easterseals DC MD VA’s Senior Director of Child Development Operations.  L’Ornya is an expert in early childhood education, bringing over 20 years’ experience, a Master of Education from Marymount University, and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Howard University.


Did you know the first five years of your child’s life are fundamentally important? With 80 percent of brain development happening in the first five years of life, these years are the foundation that will shape your child’s future health, happiness, growth, and development. They also play an important role in your child’s future academic achievements and social relationships with family members and the community. During these years, children learn and develop more quickly than at any other time in their lives. Yet in the United States, every year, more than one million children enter school at risk of an undiagnosed developmental delay because they haven’t been screened properly, if at all.

At Easterseals, we want parents to be aware of critical developmental milestones and the signs that may be indications of developmental delays. Even more, we want them to know how to support their children in reaching these milestones and how to access early intervention if needed. Early intervention can make all the difference for a child to succeed alongside his or her peers when entering kindergarten.

As a leading provider of inclusive early care and education services, we are committed to partnering with parents to raise healthy and happy children. Here are some common developmental milestones that your child should reach by the suggested age. If you don’t see these skills developing, or if you have any concerns, talk to your pediatrician. If you need referral services for an evaluation, please email me anytime.


  • Say “mama” and “dada” by age 1.
  • Say the names of a few objects and people by age 1.
  • Attempt nursery rhymes or short TV jingles by age 2.
  • Be understood by people outside the family by age 3.
  • Talk in short sentences by age 3.


  • Try to put toys in mouth by 7 months.
  • Play games such as peek-a-boo, patty cake and wave good-bye by age 1.
  • Play group games such as hide-and-seek or tag with other children by age 4.
  • Share and take turns by age 5.


  • Respond to name when called by age 1.
  • Identify hair, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth by pointing to them by age 2.
  • Understand simple stories told or read by age 3.
  • Give reasonable answers to simple questions such as, “What do you do when you are sleepy?” or “What do you do when you are hungry?” by age 4.
  • Understand the meaning of the words “today,” “tomorrow,” and “yesterday” by age 5.


  • Hold head up when lying on tummy by 3 months.
  • Roll over by 8 months.
  • Sit up without help or support by 9 months.
  • Crawl on hands and knees by age 1.
  • Walk by age 2.
  • Walk down steps by age 3.
  • Balance on one foot for a short time by age 4.
  • Throw and catch a large bouncing ball by age 5.


  • Open hands by 3 months.
  • Bat and swipe at toys by 4 months.
  • Pass toys from one hand to the other by 9 months.
  • Pick up little objects like Cheerios by 10 months.
  • Bang toys together by 11 months.


  • Drink from a cup and use a spoon by 2 years.
  • Help with getting dressed by 3 years.
  • Dress without supervision by 5 years.


For a more comprehensive assessment, consider taking Easterseals’ Confidential Make the First Five Count Screening Tool. This tool guides you with questions so that you can evaluate your child’s growth and development during the first five years. You can use the free tool when your child is at least 4-weeks-old until five-years-old. The sooner you address a developmental delay or special need, the better long-term success you can expect for your child’s overall well-being. Early intervention is key.

To learn more about Easterseals’ inclusive early care and education services, and how we can help your child reach his or her potential, click here.

What’s Your Personal Call to Serve?

Notes from the President: 


I just returned from an exciting session at The Bush Institute’s Stand-to Veteran Leadership Program where we explored a key question each of us faces: why do you make a personal choice to stand for certain beliefs?

The Institute shared a video of a speech given by General Mark Milley, 39th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, at Easterseals’ Advocacy Awards where he talked about his personal call to serve. One sentence from General Milley had particular resonance for me. “In this country, in these United States for which I am willing to die, every single one of us is born free and equal, and you will rise based on your merit and skill, and you’re going to be judged by the content of your character, not by the color of your skin.”

I grew up without much money, so I am proud to live in a country where opportunity is available. But it is important to me that beyond available, opportunity is accessible, and that’s why I became involved with Easterseals 12 years ago.

I was fortunate to have a family that read to me and helped me prepare for school. I also had the good fortune of attending high-quality public schools. When I went to Williams College, working during the summers and part-time during the school year enabled me to cover a big chunk of my tuition, unlike today.

After college I became an investment banker, attended Tuck Business School at Dartmouth, and worked in a variety of roles in consulting, investment banking, and at a telecom company before settling down in D.C. at Capital One. Their Executive Board Leadership Program enabled me to serve on the Board of a nonprofit supported by Capital One. I visited Easterseals DC MD VA and instantly connected with the organization’s mission. I saw children of all abilities learning together as well as children from low income families getting high quality early education so they would be positioned to succeed in school and life.

Also at that time my Mom had cancer. Like any nervous son, I was worried about how to take care of her – should I get a home health aide or put her in a nursing home? Both options were deeply unsatisfying as my mom was an extremely social person and I absolutely did not want her to feel isolated. My mother was able to live independently until she entered the hospital two weeks before she died. We never needed Easterseals services for my mother, but it was comforting to know that the combination of medical and social support provided by the Adult Day Services center was available.

These events in my life connected me to Easterseals, and I am honored to be in a position to lead an extraordinary organization that is a source of comfort, relief, and opportunity. It’s really two key aspects of our Vision: hope and realized potential. Easterseals creates a hopeful, inclusive community where all individuals realize their potential and live meaningful lives.

Every day, I see families who remind me of my parents. They want to help their young children be prepared for school, but they have to work multiple jobs just to get by, let alone cover the cost of tuition. I understand how important it is for parents to be able to give their children a chance to get a good education. And I am extremely proud that Easterseals can provide low-income families with scholarships to cover the gap between the cost of delivering our high-quality early education and the reimbursement rates paid by government vouchers (it’s about a $1,000 gap per child per month).

Sometimes friends ask me, “Don’t you hate asking for money?” My reply is – I’m so passionate about our work that I’m happy to spread the word any chance I get. Expanding the services and work of Easterseals DC MD VA is my calling in life and I am honored to answer that call every day.

If you have your own personal “call to serve” story or experience (and it doesn’t even need to be Easterseals), I encourage you to share it with me in the comments below. Our community has so many needs, so I hope this post inspires you to get more involved in some way.

A New Era for Disability Employment

Notes from the President: 

jonAlmost 30 years ago, on July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush made a bold pronouncement: “With today’s signing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”

As president and CEO of Easterseals DC MD VA, I’m proud of Easterseals’ legacy of both direct service and advocacy to change the way the world defines and views disabilities. Since our founding in 1919, we have been at the forefront of change and innovation. Our staff and volunteers were leaders in the fight for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The fight for the rights of individuals with disabilities to have equal opportunities for employment, public accommodation, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. Part of that fight was a series of advertisements to illustrate the dilemmas and desires of Americans with disabilities to have the same opportunities as every American–to live, learn, work, and play in their communities. If you’re a history buff like me, you’ll enjoy looking at these advertisements.


Together, we have reached some incredible milestones – most Millennials and Generation Zs have no concept of life without curb cuts on sidewalks or wheelchair ramps in buildings. Most buses have wheelchair lifts. Therapy services are much more widely available. Children now have the opportunity to be educated in a less restricted environment, but rather an inclusive classroom where they can learn side-by-side with their typically developing peers.  An arrangement that benefits all.

One area that has not kept pace, however, is employment. Today only 30 percent of working-age adults with disabilities are employed. In the D.C. metro region there are more than 330,000 working-age individuals with disabilities who are NOT employed. Adults with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as those without disability. The reality: although the ADA provided more access, employment continues to be a challenge.

That’s why we recently launched the Easterseals Disability Staffing Network (EDSN, pronounced “Edison”) to break down barriers to employment faced by many people with disabilities. EDSN is a social venture employment service that matches adults with various disabilities with a wide range of private sector employers. It works on two levels, first by serving as an intermediary for businesses or organizations seeking to employ individuals with disabilities. Then, recruiting from the area’s service agencies that provide job training and other support services to source a large pool of candidates. We will also recruit graduates (of colleges, high schools, and technical schools) and other employable individuals with various disabilities. Easterseals has worked with many local vocational rehabilitation, supported/customized employment, and state agencies to understand the barriers to helping more of their clients find successful jobs, as well as careers. EDSN is the next phase for progressing disability employment.


EDSN also prepares candidates through our job search e-learning program, and trains employers on how to successfully integrate people with disabilities into their workforce. EDSN builds on our success with the Veteran Staffing Network (VSN), which creates new employment markets for thousands of veterans and military family members (many of whom have disabilities). Additionally, our model breaks down barriers for employers by providing the opportunity to utilize a temp-to-hire model that allows companies to try out employees. We also have a strong network with committed companies through the VSN, who already know the value of hiring people with disabilities, and can help make successful connections.

So why should companies want to hire workers who have disabilities? The answer is simple – to build a great workforce. Overall, workers with disabilities have superior timeliness and attendance records and lower turnover rates than the general workforce. There can also be tax advantages for hiring individuals with disabilities. As director of EDSN Deirdre Bulgar notes, “The desires of people with disabilities are no different from yours or mine. They want to work, make a fair wage, work in an environment where they are appreciated, and gain satisfaction that they were productive at the end of the day.”

IMG_9299With EDSN, Easterseals wants to empower individuals with disabilities to obtain integrated, competitive employment, so they can live productive and independent lives. Marsha Johnson, an employee of Easterseals, is a perfect example of an individual who has worked to her potential, despite having a disability since she was diagnosed with polio at the age of 5. For most of her life, she has lived without full use of her legs. However, her parents provided her with incredible support and motivation from the time she was a child, from connecting her to every available resources (including Easterseals) to instilling in her a sense of hard work to ensure she not only lives, but thrives. Ultimately, Marsha achieved a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Gannon University, and then worked as a social worker in Pennsylvania’s Department of Health and Human Services for 25 years. She was also the first African-American woman to be employed in the department for child welfare.

Now retired, Marsha continues to work as a front desk receptionist at Easterseals’ Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center, welcoming other members of the community of all abilities. “People come to Easterseals because they need help, and when I see them at the front desk, or answer their calls, I see my mother in them – just reaching out for help,” says Marsha.

IMG_9300Marsha is truly an inspiration and an embodiment of our vision of creating a hopeful, inclusive community where all people achieve their potential and live meaningful lives. Easterseals Disability Staffing Network is another innovative stepping stone towards that promise for thousands of Americans living with disabilities.

To learn more about Easterseals Disability Staffing Network, contact Deirdre Bulger, director of EDSN at

Easterseals Brings Quality of Life to Participants with Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Notes from the President: 

jonRoxy Fuentes is the activity specialist at The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Adult Day Services Center at Easterseals’ Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center in Silver Spring. Every day, she comes to work ready to put smiles on the faces of our participants. The center provides personalized, daily care and a social environment to more than 60 individuals who live with some form of disability or special need. More than half have memory loss such as Alzheimer’s disease, and the memories that remain are precious to them.

For Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, I want to share some insight on how Roxy and other Easterseals staff members help our participants live meaningful lives.

First, however, I’d like to provide some facts. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, almost 6 million people live with Alzheimer’s disease and it is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. By 2050 this number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million deaths per year. Every 65 seconds someone in America develops the disease. Currently, more than 16.1 million people provide unpaid care to someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.


These numbers are staggering. As the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease explodes, cost-effective, community-based care like Easterseals Adult Day Services is critical to a functional society. Furthermore, the need to support caregivers and families in addition to providing quality care to members of our community living with dementia is only growing.

Delmy Jesus Orellana and her family are a perfect example. Ten years ago, 79-year old Delmy, who lives with her daughter and three grandchildren, was diagnosed with dementia. Stretched for time and resources with other family responsibilities, Delmy’s daughter was quickly becoming overwhelmed with work, children’s school and her mother’s care. When Delmy also became depressed, Delmy’s daughter turned to Easterseals to get support for her family.

Roxy Fuentes

At the Adult Day Services Center, Roxy spends her day engaging participants like Delmy with sensory activities such as art, music, cooking, puzzles, and dancing. Roxy says these activities, along with keeping participants on a predictable schedule, help them better manage their progressing memory loss. “It’s important to get to know and understand each participant as an individual because what works with one person may not work with another,” said Roxy. “I also practice a lot of patience when communicating with participants, which helps to keep them calm. For them, it can get very frustrating to forget what day it is, or how to do something, or even what they were just saying.” This is a great example of Easterseals’ core value of Respect. When you come visit you’ll see Roxy and her colleagues respecting the individual’s hopes and desires in our program.


Roxy’s calling to work with people living with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other brain disorders started when she was 7 years old taking care of her grandmother, who was in her 90s. When her grandmother passed, Roxy knew she wanted to continue working with senior citizens when she got older because it fulfilled her sense of purpose. Roxy now has over 12 years of experience that she brings to our participants. She not only leads activities, but is the center’s resident Spanish translator for participants. “What I like best about working at the center is that they really invest in resources for the participants, whether it’s communicating at their level or providing resources for engagement,” Roxy says. “People with memory issues and other disabilities need a variety of activities to stay stimulated. For example, playing a simple game of Bingo or creating a painting really helps them stay connected to a world that is slowly becoming unfamiliar to them.”


Roxy says two of the most popular activities at the center are the Wii games and recently installed Smartboard. Both help get participants moving. The center also organizes music and dance sessions, yoga classes and local field trips. All these activities create an engaging, social, activity-filled environment. For Patricia Anderson, a 71-year-old grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease, coming to the Adult Day Center three times a week gives her a precious opportunity to interact with people. “When I’m at home, all I do is stare at 4 walls,” she says. “I look forward to coming to the center for the Zumba classes, arts and crafts and basically just talking to good friends.”

Today, I’m happy to report that Delmy is no longer depressed, and she keeps herself as healthy and active as possible by walking 40 laps around the center every day. And for Patricia, even though there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, Easterseals’ staff members like Roxy will continue to do everything they can to provide support to Patricia and her family and bring smiles to participants’ faces.