Author Archives: Easterseals

100 Years, a reflection with a former client

by Liz Graham

It’s 2019 and Easterseals is celebrating 100 years of service and advocacy for people living with disabilities!

It is an incredible milestone and I have been lucky to learn more about our history and meet some of our supporters and clients over the past few months. Through this celebration I have had the pleasure of getting to know Susan K., an Easterseals Legacy Society Member and former client who received Physical Therapy services in the 1960’s. In speaking with Susan to learn about her life and her experiences it struck me how far we have come as a society and, yet, how far we still have to go. This is why the next 100 years of Easterseals are so important.

Susan was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy early in life. Her physical challenges have never defined her; fortunately, with the advocacy of loved ones early in life she never believed she couldn’t achieve whatever she set her mind to. In Susan’s words:

“My story as an “Easterseals child” began sixty some years ago in, what was then, the small, sleepy – some might say idyllic – town of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where I was born and raised.

Doylestown, in the 1950’s and 60’s, was a town small enough that most families knew each other somehow or other…from school, church, civic activities or shopping at the A&P grocery store in the middle of town. I attended the public “borough schools” from kindergarten through graduation from high school. However, there was a time that my going to public school was in doubt. There were a few who felt a physically handicapped child should not be integrated in school with other more “normal” children. But, thanks to the perseverance of my parents and a few enlightened individuals, it was felt there was no reason I could not be mainstreamed into the school system. And, only minor physical accommodations were ever made. Accommodations that would be almost laughable today, they were so simple. My first four years of school were spent in a very old, gothic structure with four floors and restrooms in the basement. As an example, in first and second grades, when we had one of our numerous fire drills, a male teacher, on his way down the stairs from the upper floors to the outside, would sweep me up in his arms and carry me down the long outside flight of stairs to the playground where everyone gathered. However, on a daily basis, I navigated all those steps totally on my own.

Friendships made, early on, were friendships that live on even today. I was different but accepted. Sure, occasionally different is picked on, picked last; but because I met my school mates at a time when children have few preconceived notions, for the most part, I had a fairly normal school experience. I’ve always felt my public-school experience, and the general acceptance I always felt – from classmates to teachers – is what helped to form my feelings of self-worth.

Of course, during those early growing up years, I was a regular client of Easterseals “treatment centers”. I had physical therapy, fortunately not needing occupational or speech therapies. Occasionally, at the treatment center, I would meet with the great Dr. Burton Chance, an early pioneer in the field of treating handicapped children. My years of physical therapy, years of wearing leg braces, were free, courtesy of the “Easterseal Society”. Generous donations then, as now, really do change the course of life for Easterseals children whose families might not, otherwise, be able to afford the cost.

After high school graduation, I went on to college. Then, two months after college graduation, I began my first full time job that would end up being a 36-year career in state government. Seven years ago, I retired from that career.”

Since 1960 the world has evolved and great strides have been made to provide individuals with disabilities greater equality and access, particularly in our schools. Easterseals was at the forefront of advocacy to pass the American Disabilities Act and has always sought to provide innovative services to help people with disabilities find greater independence. Today, there would be no doubt that Susan would attend public school with her peers. Today, Easterseals breaks down barriers to inclusion and stereotypes before they are ever built; our Friendship Academy preschool program integrates children with and without disabilities to learn and grow together. This innovative approach to preschool began in 2006 and, locally, has had significant impact for participants.

But we are far from done.

When I asked Susan if she has seen a significant difference in society’s perception of individuals with disabilities she responded,

The treatment of those who are “different” – physically, mentally, racially, ethnically, gender based, etc. – hasn’t really changed all that much. There have always been – are now – some who are compassionate and enlightened. People who don’t flinch at having normal interaction with those who are perceived as being different. Who help others when they see a need.

But, we also live in a world where threats of all kinds could be just around the corner. A world where many seem to be looking out just for themselves. To them, dealing with someone who is slower, or in need of assistance, is an inconvenience they’d rather avoid on their way to protecting themselves. I’ve often wondered how people like that would handle themselves, or a loved one, becoming suddenly disabled. Would they be angry when they see a handicapped parking space being taken by someone who, literally, sprints from car to building? Would they expect assistance as their “right”?

I’ve been one of the lucky Easterseals children in that my disability, for most of my life, did not hamper or define what I wanted to do. Much of the credit goes to family, friends and teachers I had at each step along the way. But, of course, had it not been for Easterseals and the services they provide, the story might have been totally different.”

It is critical that Easterseals continue to advocate, continue to innovate, and continue to ensure that individuals like Susan have the resources and services they need to live, learn, work and play in their communities. Join Easterseals for our next 100 years where, together, we will work to build a future where everyone is 100% included and 100% empowered.

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Newspaper clipping of Susan as a child.

Introducing our Volunteer Handy Man, Lew Oser

By Loretta Meola, Teaching Assistant in Bucks Division

Lew Oser has been volunteering his time and talent with Easterseals and has become part of the family. In the past, he has shared his creative woodworking skills by making several props for our carnivals. He has made two construction paper holders, and a tray holder for the Dolphin room. This year, Lew repaired the “practice” stairs in the school gym. He donates his “spare” time to complete these projects and provides all of the materials needed. Lew loves our Easterseals children! And we love Lew!

 

The Importance of Social Excursions

by Jeanine Johnson

I have had an opportunity to get to know the Owls’ classroom pretty well over the last year. I recently had the pleasure of accompanying the classroom on a trip to the Flower Show held at the Convention Center in Center City Philadelphia. I won’t lie, I wasn’t sure how the children were going to fare. It can be an overwhelming experience. Would they be bored? Would the crowds be too much? Would they get any enjoyment from it? I am happy to report that my worries were unfounded.

The children were in awe. I chaperoned my friend Naji. He “oohed” and “aahed” from the moment we stepped into the ballrooms. I was able to experience firsthand all the benefits the outings bring. It gave the children a chance to put into practice, in a crowded social setting, their listening ears, walking feet, being patient and waiting their turn. We got to practice identifying colors, objects and counting. Learning disguised as fun, how delightfully sneaky!!

The wonderful thing about spending time with the children is being able to see their progression. I have seen so much growth in all of these students both socially and academically. Hearing a child who wouldn’t speak in the past find their voice is astonishing. Watching a student sit through an activity, who in the past was restless, is satisfying.   Seeing the pride in their face when they complete a task correctly is gratifying. Seeing the friendships and bonds they have developed with one another is heartwarming. I have an ever growing respect for the teachers, teacher’s assistants, one-on-ones and therapists who work with the students on a daily basis. Their dedication, hard work and love for these children really does yield miraculous results. They see the potential and nurture it!

I revel in being able to be a small part of the children’s learning and growing experiences.

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How to help manage stress as a parent to a child/children with disabilities

by Shaquanah Watson

Stress management is an important skill for any parent to master but is it especially important for parents of children with disabilities. As a parent of children with developmental delays and/or a disability can come with some unique challenges. Here are some ways to begin your stress management journey that you can model for children and adults:

Positive Thinking – What you think is what you live, it all starts in the your mind: think positive thoughts even when you get negative results.

Keep realistic standards – Sometimes we can be very hard on ourselves. It is OK to ask for help from your peers. Its OK to say no. Saying no can be so hard for parents because we feel so responsible for everything; for an easier approach try “thank you, I appreciate that you thought of me, but I can’t host the PTO meeting this month.”

Take care of your physical needs – A little cardio or Yoga for 30 minutes a day is really a big help. It gives you time to wind down and relax your mind from the events of the day. I recommend you do it before you go to bed for a better sleep pattern.

Sometimes You Just Gotta Have Some Fun

by Maggie Cusak

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The winter months in a school can be long and hard. Children cannot go outside, teachers feel cooped up and administrators feel the stress of keeping everyone happy and safe during those long cold months. At the EI Center, the GROBO committee, a group of coworkers has been committed to Getting Rid of BurnOut and reminding people that work can be fun! The group has sponsored activities during the workday, and social gatherings outside of work. During the month of March, the committee sponsored a door-decorating contest for all offices and classrooms.

Staff selected a children’s book or popular author and got to work on their creations. The doors, to be judged by three impartial coworkers, were designed to not only be pretty, but also interactive and fun. The doors made familiar stories come alive with switch-activated lights, manipulative features and voice output devices. Each door incorporated children’s artwork as well as staff creativity and imagination. Each door reflected a small piece of the classroom’s spirit or office’s expertise. For example, the Occupational Therapists created a door featuring Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons that incorporated the ability for students to practice buttoning his sweater, and tying his shoes. One of the classrooms featured several textured dinosaurs from a beloved Barefoot Book called The Dinosaur Rap, as well as a voice output device that played a repeated phrase in the book.

Throughout the first week of March, students and staff have enjoyed walking around the school and operating the buttons, and moving the pieces of each door. It’ll be a test to see which door survives the longest.

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Enrichment through Storytelling

By Jennifer Eubanks

Guess who is the best storyteller in the whole wide world? That’s right you’ve guessed it! It is Patricia Fitzmeyer, aka The Story Lady! After well over 30 years of teaching in the Yaffe Center in the Starfish classroom, Pat decided to retire. However, her love for the children and teaching could not let her disconnect from Easterseals completely. So fortunately for us, she graces the classrooms weekly with her dramatic and animated storytelling ability.

She is such an incredible addition to our learning environment. The children and staff look forward to her visits. The students gain so much from Pat. She awakens their imagination and enhances their expressions. There are always lessons in each story she tells. Some days stories are filled with color, others with wild animals from the jungle! The students are transported to unfamiliar places through Pat’s vivid illustration of each story! Our lives are enriched and enhanced by her weekly presence.

Pat we just want to say THANK YOU for everything that you do and we are so appreciative of you. Love the Owls!!

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Learning to use the 3D printer

by Kristine DelMonte

Disclaimer: I am not an Assistive Technology (AT) professional, nor am I an OT or a PT.

I work in Easterseals’ Development Department, working to cultivate volunteer experiences and corporate engagement.

But when I received an email from the AT Department looking for staff members to receive training on the 3D Printers we received last fall – thanks to a generous grant from the Comcast Foundation — I signed up right away.

Last week I participated in our first of three training sessions. There were about 11 of us plus the instructor, Marcia Leinweber, the 3D printing expert from the AT Department. I am pretty sure I was the LEAST knowledgeable person there, I’d never even seen the printer at work until that day. But judging from the energy in the room it was evident that the rest of the staff knew that what they were about to learn could provide solutions to some of tricky problems they face on a daily basis.

First, Marcia provided an overview of the many ways the printer can be used, and showed how it can be used to make assistive technology – from printing tactile books for kids with vision impairment, to printing pieces to fix therapeutic equipment, to printing switches used to adapt toys. Next, we logged on to a website called “Thingiverse” to discover the designs that we will print before the next class (we have homework!).

Using the 3D Printer isn’t likely to be part of my normal work day, but I am glad to be given the chance to more fully understand how to use it – and more importantly, to understand the many ways our staff can use it to make positive differences in the lives of the kiddos we serve.

When companies like Comcast invest in organizations like Easterseals, the kids we serve benefit in a million little ways. I can’t wait to see how our staff use the 3D printer to make assistive technology – and help our kids to be 100% included and 100% empowered.