Category Archives: General info

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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The Sea of Easterseals

by Sabrina Stafford, MT-BC

Being able to say that I know what my true calling in life is at the age of 24 is a special gift that I have been handed.

I was blessed enough to ring in my New Year’s Day next to my sister wearing bright orange jackets on the Easterseals Float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. I put my arm around Sophia as we waved for three hours at strangers who smiled and waved at us, wishing us a “Happy New Year!” Although my brother, Sammy, could not attend the parade with us due to his medical needs, I knew that he was safe, healthy, and happy at home watching us on TV.

Sophia and I were nominated by our local Easterseals affiliate to represent us nationally on the float. With us were 10 other individuals who have benefited from Easterseals. Although I was only with these individuals for a few short days, I was able to make connections that I still hold with me in my heart. I think about Reagan, who advocates for herself and others with verbal apraxia using social media as her outlet. I think about Danny, who gives a voice to those with disabilities and how important it is to have “hope” in our lives. I think about Lora and her overall passion for Easterseals (and Dr. Who). And I think about Kaison, our youngest float rider, who couldn’t stop talking about how excited he was to be on the float and celebrate Easterseals with the world. I could go on about how inspiring it was to not only ride the float with these individuals but spread the word about the magic of Easterseals with thousands of people.

About a quarter of a way through the parade, I saw something beautiful: a sea of orange. That’s right, I saw a whole section of people wearing orange hats, orange shirts, and waving orange tassels in the air. These people were cheering for us and clapping their hands. Amongst the sea, were my parents who I was lucky enough to bring along with me on this adventure. Although Sophia and I were on the opposite side of the float, we frantically spun our chairs around and waved our arms high up in the air to say hi.

Besides seeing and hearing this orange sea, I could FEEL it. I have never been in an atmosphere with so much pride, love, and honor as I did during the Rose Parade. These people were excited to celebrate Easterseals and celebrate all that makes up our disability inclusive community. Easterseals is my home outside of the home my parents have created for me, my brother and my sister. Although I am employed at Easterseals as a music therapist, my role is so much more than that. Thanks to Easterseals, I am a sibling, a disability activist, a daughter, a voice for my brother and sister and most importantly, I am myself every single day and that is what my true calling in life is.

 

Easterseals of SEPA Staff Attended & Presented at ATIA 2019

by Sandy Masayko

Six staff members from Easterseals of SEPA traveled to Orlando to attend the Assistive Technology Industry Association meeting, January 30-February 2, 2019. For Laurie Spencer, Laura Slotkoff and Jo Booth, it was their first ATIA meeting; Marcia Leinweber, Laurie McGowan and Sandy Masayko were returning participants. This stimulating conference offered a wide array of learning opportunities in the field of AT, from workshops, to posters, to vendor demonstrations and networking.  All participants were very pleased with the conference.

Easterseals was well represented in the area of presentation. Laura S., Marcia and Sandy presented a popular poster session on using 3D printing and AT to promote student participation. Sandy also co-presented “Adapting Low Cost Kiddie Ride-on Cars for Early Mobility: Lessons Learned” with Mary Elizabeth McCulloch of Project Vive and AbleRacers. Laurie McGowan helped instruct people who participated in AT Maker Day.

Here are some of the comments our attendees made about their learning experiences at ATIA:

 

Marcia:

Wow, this is hard to narrow down!

My favorite was learning more about 3D printing tactile graphics and resources available for additional tactile graphics. I enjoyed learning a variety of topics and exploring current research topics. The AT Makers Day is always a favorite. I learn so much in such a short time. The creativity and enthusiasm are inspiring.

 

Jo:

My absolute favorite session was the one with Karen Kangas on positioning. She totally captivated us all with her wit and base of knowledge. She gave practical tips on how to assess by throwing everything you think you know – out the door. Her point was to have a fresh eye and focus on the person and their ability to function within their environment.

 

Laurie S:

I second Jo’s comments.

I loved all the practical sessions. I enjoyed getting more information and resources to help with coaching teachers and TAs in implementing AAC in the classroom.

 

Laura S:

It’s really hard to pick just one favorite part of the conference; I feel like I came away with so many practical tools and strategies! I really liked the presentation on adaptive art tools by Judith Schoonover. We’ve only been back at Easterseals for a week, yet I’ve already had the opportunity to make several adaptations to help students better participate in art and crafts.

 

Laurie M:

It is always difficult to choose what to go to, and just one class as a favorite. There are so many great offerings. This year I focused on computer accessibility and note taking. I discovered that the computer industry – both Mac and PC  – Google and Microsoft have really stepped up their game in accessibility for everyone.  And not only are they all free tools for everyone to use, many go across platforms. This is a  huge advantage for our transitioning students for OVR. I also enjoy the exhibit hall.  You get to talk directly with the developers and companies, ask questions and see all the new things they are working on.

 

Sandy:

Networking and sharing ideas at our poster session was really enjoyable. I learned that Easterseals of SEPA is really “cutting edge” with our introduction and use of 3D printing to make assistive technology.

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ATIA 2019 Easterseals of SEPA Participants, left to right: Marcia Leinweber, Laura Slotkoff, Laurie Spencer, Jo Booth, Sandy Masayko, Laurie McGowan

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Our poster session about 3D printed AT was very well received. The session included AT created by 3D printing for participants to inspect and try.

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The poster was created as an outcome of our Maker Space grant funded by Comcast and supported by other community partners such as Drexel, the Science Leadership Academy, Project Vive and MakerBot. Our poster will have its own blog post soon!

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Mary Elizabeth McCulloch of Project Vive and Sandy Masayko of Easterseals co-presented a session titled “Low Cost Adapted Toy Cars for Early Independent Mobility: Lessons Learned.” In January 2017 Project Vive partnered with Easterseals to provide a how-to workshop on car adaptations, and the ATIA presentation shared tips for effective car construction workshops.

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.

It Doesn’t Get Better Than This

by Jeanine Johnson

I know, I know, I keep talking about how amazing Easterseals is. But it IS truly amazing. Despite working in an administrative capacity, there are ample opportunities to interact with the children. There is a welcoming culture here at Easterseals, and I am one who has chosen to take advantage of this culture. I have made interacting with the children an integral part of my day, taking breaks from the monotony of office work and visiting classrooms.

Oh, the payout is grand!! Not only do I get to know the children, but they get to know me. As a result, I get daily visits from several children before they board the buses to go home. I’ve been told those children are not happy when I’m not here to receive them. BIG SMILE!! I even have the honor of being included as one of the “people options” on one of the student’s communication device. When I hear “Ms. Jeanine” coming from the hallway, I know Vanessa is coming to pay me a visit. How cool is that!

Even though I am not a part of the education team, I’m still a part of the children’s learning experiences. Whether I’m coaxing a friend to use her words, identifying colors, blowing bubbles, sharing or practicing manners, we are all learning. I think in life we are all both Teachers and Students. I know I have learned a lot from the kids. Most importantly remembering to find joy in the little things, and appreciating the significance of determination, trust, and unconditional love. Whenever I need a “Pick-Me-Up” or want to “Fall in Love” all over again, I visit with the kids!

Lifetime Imprints

by Jeanine Johnson

The other day I was sitting and reflecting fondly on the last year. I made a lot of meaningful connections with the children here at Easterseals. As I have spoken of before, I was both sad to see some leave, but excited for the growth and progress that enabled them to move forward, on to the next adventure in their lives. I was comforted in the thought that maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to hold on to some of these connections, at least a little longer. I’m sitting here smiling because I have. Don’t know how long it will last, but I am holding on to and enjoying every opportunity that presents itself.

In August I attended a 5th Birthday party for Maximo. He’s a former student who left Easterseals early because his family relocated. During his time here he managed to capture everyone’s heart. We were all disappointed that our time with him was cut short. I was overjoyed that I was invited to share in his birthday celebration. It was nice being able to see him and, to once again, experience that magical smile. His mother sends me pictures periodically, which always brightens my day immensely.

In December I met up with one of my favorite graduates, Mung. My daughter, Autumn, and I treated Mung and his mother to lunch in Center City, Philadelphia. We had an opportunity to catch up on all that has been going on with him and his transitioning to a new school. He has always been somewhat of a character having “beyond his years” humor and sarcasm. I was delighted to see that hadn’t changed.

What’s been very evident to me is how much that Easterseals has meant to these families. I am so glad that their faith in entrusting us with the care of their children was well placed. The impact our programs have for these children will remain with them for years to come. The impact the children have had on me will last my lifetime.

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lunch with Mung

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Maximo’s birthday

Music and Memories

by Sabrina Stafford

When I received the news that I would be interning at Easterseals back in December of 2015, I was ecstatic. Being the oldest sibling of two children with special needs, I am used to most special education programs being familiar with my family; but this was different. Easterseals had been a part of not only my brother and sister’s lives but also mine. I attended the Sibshop program that was available in the evenings to siblings of children who attended Easterseals. This program was very important to me as a little girl (and I’m not just saying that because they had free pizza).

Sibshop taught me that although being a sibling is difficult, it is also incredibly rewarding. My siblings are a blessing. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to easily learn values such as patience, empathy and hope. When I walked into the doors of the Delaware County Division of Easterseals after accepting the position as the Music Therapist, I felt like I was walking into Easterseals as a little girl back in the early 2000’s.

My brother, Sammy, graduated from Easterseals in 2000. He is currently 22 years old and a graduate from Elwyn’s Davidson School. Sammy once was a student in the APS classroom. Sammy received in-home services such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy. In fact, Ms. Paula, Sammy’s previous PT still works at Easterseals today. What a surprise it was for me to recognize a familiar face on my first week as an intern! Sammy is healthy and strong and enjoys his days socializing at home with family and his nurses.

My sister, Sophia, graduated from Easterseals in 2006. She is now 17 years old and attends a life-skills class at Penncrest High School. Sophia was one of the first children to attend the Friendship academy at the Delaware County Division. Sophia continues to enjoy school, especially socializing with peers her age. She attends all of her high school dances and is also a member of her student council and honors society. Sophia also works at The Media Library as part of her life-skills curriculum.

I am a proud sibling of both Sammy and Sophia. Of course my special family has come with challenges, but those challenges are heavily outweighed by the benefits. Easterseals has been a small-knit community for me and my family, and continues to be a supportive environment for me as a newly professional Music Therapist.

Although Sammy and Sophia have both graduated from Easterseals, they bring the spirit and warmth of the Easterseals community with them. They will continue to hold Easterseals in their hearts, just as I continue to do every day. It has been such a rewarding experience for me working at Easterseals; I feel like I was born to have this job. I am so very thankful for the life experiences that prepared me for my endeavors at Easterseals. Because of this, I wake up every day with a smile knowing that without my siblings, and without Easterseals, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.