Category Archives: child stories

The Love Affair Continues

by Jeanine Johnson

Those of you who have ever read my blogs know how much I love Easterseals, the mission, the staff and the children. You probably also know that I have spoken in the past about what I hope to be a lifelong bond with one student who graduated in 2017. Periodically, I have the pleasure of being able to meet up with Mung as his mother is gracious enough to share her son with me. Mung stole my heart from day one and I am so glad I get to check up on his progress and achievements. You always hope that the personality and happy spirit still remain after the children leave the nurturing environment of Easterseals. It’s a special place and we all know the outside world can be cruel.
Before Winter Break, my daughter and I planned an excursion to take him to see Trolls the Musical. Won’t lie, I wasn’t really interested in the show, but the opportunity to catch up with the little man outweighed the thought of sitting through the program. I have to tell you, experiencing his reactions to the show and his interactions with my daughter Autumn (who used to work at Easterseals and they were as thick as thieves) brought so much delight to me. I don’t know who enjoyed the experience more. Afterwards, the three of us headed out to have lunch where we could catch up properly.
While Mung was a student, he forged several strong relationships with various personnel at Easterseals. One of those people is Eric who was his bus driver at the time and is now our Transportation Coordinator. Eric had the opportunity to get to know Mung and his family over the period he spent transporting Mung and other students to and from school every day. Well, I had one more treat for Mung that day. While we were having lunch and catching up, Eric made a surprise appearance to see Mung. His reaction was priceless. He was at a loss for words, which I have only witnessed one other time with Mung over the years. Once he gathered his composure, he first said “it can’t be” then he went into silly mode and said “I don’t know that man”, all while smiling ear to ear.
By keeping the connection with Mung, I get to see firsthand that Easterseals was a strong foundation to prepare him for what lies ahead. People often say to me that it’s nice that I keep in touch with Mung. His mother thanks me and tells me it means a lot to her and him. Honestly, it’s partially selfish. I get as much enjoyment out of it as he does. I already have ideas for our Spring/Summer outing. Stay tuned!

A note of thanks!

by Danielle Franchini-Muir

Danielle is not only our Director of Behavioral Support Services, but she is also a Friendship Academy parent. As her son began kindergarten this morning, she wrote this lovely note to the staff at the Friendship Academy and the entire Montgomery County Division.

Hi Montco Staff!
I wanted to send a note of thanks on this special day. My son Joey has been attending Friendship Academy at Easterseals Montgomery County for two wonderful years and had his last day just a couple weeks ago. He gets very nervous with new people, places, and things, but school soon became his favorite place to be! Not only were his teachers phenomenal, but all the staff there including other education staff, child care staff, therapists, and even Mr. Steve (on all our late days!) all also made him feel as special and loved as he is to me. There is no better feeling as a parent. He was so sad to leave and even shed a few tears leaving the parking lot on his final day.
As sad as it was/is for both of us, I knew putting him on the bus this morning for Kindergarten he was READY! He was nervous, but smiling.  And I know he has the skills to really make it in Kindergarten thanks to all of YOU 🙂
Hope this note and pictures brighten your day! Just know all your hard work really does pay off – you all make differences in the lives of kids and parents every day.


Danielle

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.

susan_blog_photo

Newspaper clipping of Susan as a child.

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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Extended Family Ties

by Jeanine Johnson

Over the holidays I gave a lot of thought to family. The definition of family in many legal contexts denotes “individuals related by blood, marriage, or adoption” but there’s other definitions that are broader, encompassing groups of individuals not related by these things. At Easterseals we embody the broader meaning. I am entering my 4th year of employment with Easterseals and the past 3 years have been wonderful. I have had many challenges which have been outweighed by unexpected and welcomed joys. I truly feel that my family has been extended by the relationships I have developed with some of the families here at Easterseals.

One of the things that gave my holiday season a great start was hearing from the family of one of my favorite students that no longer attend Easterseals, Maximo! I received updated pictures of him and his family, which show how much he has grown, and information on all his progress over the last year. They could be crowned one of the cutest families ever and I feel blessed that they have continued to let me, in some small way, be a part of his life!

Over the holiday break I met up with one of my other favorite graduates, Mung. My daughter Autumn and I had the pleasure of spending time with him at the Academy of Natural Sciences. His mother doesn’t mind that we steal him away for a few hours. It is so nice to see that his indomitable spirit is still fully intact, that he is adjusting to the change in schools and making progress both physically and academically. I enjoy outings with Mung because he has a sense of humor and sarcasm that is way beyond his years. He is one of the brightest and most intelligent children I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. We always have a good time and he is always saddened, with tears flowing, by our departure. I assured him that as long as he will have us, we will be around!

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I love, love, love the fact that at Easterseals, regardless of your position, you have the option to be as involved with the children as you choose (well, as much as your workflow allows). I am not part of the classroom staff but I was gifted with the opportunity to accompany the Owls class on their annual trip to the light shows at both the Comcast Center and Macy’s and then the Dickens House exhibit. I was paired up with another cutie, Naji, who has fast become one of my favorites. Wait, should I be saying that? Oh, well. In actuality, I have a lot of cuties that I adore who visit me every day! Every year brings opportunities for new connections. I have daily reminders of why what I do matters!

I have come to understand how my mother, a mother of 8, still had room in her heart and life for the ton of other children that referred to her as mom. Families can be comprised of the truly invaluable relationships one builds throughout life, and love truly has no limits.