Honorary Ambassadors and their teams are gearing up for Walk With Me, a signature fundraiser for Easterseals Northeast Central Florida. The event will be this Friday, April 26. Gates open at 5 p.m., the walk begins at 5:30 p.m., picnic starts at 6 p.m. and the Daytona Tortugas game begins at 7:05 p.m. Will you be there?
Walk With Me will begin and end at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach and includes a 1.5-mile scenic stroll around the Sweetheart Trail in Riverside and City Island Parks in Daytona Beach.
Each year, Walk With Me is led by inspiring local young ambassadors who lead teams through the event and share their stories of hope and courage while living with disabilities. The 2019 Walk With Me ambassadors include Barrington Little (age 3), Blake Ferguson (2), Isabella Potsick (13), Scarlett Valdez (5), Myracle Andrews (5), Bob McGrath (4), Carson Chesley (9), Carl Bowdre (2), Ethan (4) and Piper MacGregor (2) and Yuvon Simhadri (5).
In honor of national Easterseals' 100-year anniversary, Easterseals is aiming to receive commitments from 100 teams in this year's event. (As of this release, 97 teams have been secured.) The event's fundraising goal is $65,000 to support Easterseals programs that help adult and children reach their fullest potential.
For more information about Walk With Me, visit www.walkwithme.org/daytona. For more information about how Easterseals is taking on disability in our communities, visit www.eastersealsnecfl.org.
Oatmeal, barbeque chicken, applesauce and sweet potatoes. Together, they’re healthy food options for any growing youngster. But, if that’s all he’ll eat from day to day, it’s reasonable that his parents may get concerned.
Food aversion is one of the challenges that Melissa and Chad Chesley have experienced with their nine-year-old son Carson. Just as they had called upon Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida to provide in-home behavior, occupational, physical and speech therapies to Carson, who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at a young age, they also have looked to Easterseals’ TR-eat® Model (Transdisciplinary Effective Assessment and Treatment) for answers to his selective eating.
The TR-eat® Model includes behavior strategies that are combined with skill building, facilitation, sensory desensitization, and oral motor intervention to help children overcome their resistance to non-preferred foods.
Carson had been receiving Easterseals services for a couple the of months when the TR-eat® Model became available to him. Melissa recalled the extent of Carson’s food aversions when he began the program.
“During Hurricane Matthew (in late September 2016), we had evacuated. Out of our home, Carson doesn’t really eat very much anyway, but then he contracted a couple of stomach bugs (during that time) and had stopped eating all his foods but one,” remembered Melissa.
Carson was so underweight at one point that it concerned his primary care doctor, who had strongly suggested Carson use a feeding tube as a solution. But, his parents were hopeful for a better way.
During the same time period, Easterseals therapist Amy Michaelis also had been supporting Carson and family in the home with feeding strategies. Carson did not (and still doesn’t) like to eat anywhere other than home and that includes school, explained Melissa, but Amy was able to harness some eating victories with Carson that gave the family hope.
“Once there was success with a new, more portable food: Uncrustables® sandwiches,” said Melissa. “Amy went to school a couple of times and had a session with Carson with the new food. (Before that) he had never eaten at school at all. Most days he’d go from 7 p.m. to 5 p.m. the next day without eating.”
At the same time, Carson began the TR-eat® Model as part of his occupational therapy sessions at Easterseals. He slowly started trying new foods and was eating the sandwiches at school. “The good news is he went from not eating all day to eating during the day,” said Melissa. “And now, he’ll still eat the new food but also eat things before it and with it.”
In addition to his appetite for foods slowly expanding through the TR-eat® Model, Carson has experienced impressive leaps in his speech development, said his mother.
“We’ve seen a huge uptick in his language,” said Melissa. “He went from one-word requests to actual sentences. We are on the verge of something really big.”
“I think of the word ‘advocacy’ all the time,” said Chad. “When I think of Carson or any of my children, I think, ‘what is their fullest potential?’ So, it doesn’t matter if Carson has a diagnosis. Whatever his fullest potential is, we want him to reach it. If other people want to be part of that, because we don’t know exactly what that looks like, then it’s exciting for us.”
Melissa, who now works side by side with Easterseals therapists in her role as Easterseals Chief Financial Officer, can’t say enough good things about her colleagues.
Said Melissa: “I have personal experience with them, and we’ve spent a lot of time together. All of the therapists here are amazing.”
The Chesley family is anticipating being a part of the 2019 Honorary Ambassadors program. Join Carson and his family for Walk With Me on April 26 in Daytona Beach. Connect with their team, register to walk or donate at www.walkwithme.org/daytona.
Scarlett Valdez is a curious, sweet-tempered four-year-old who’s been in the Easterseals of Northeast Florida family since her birth. Her connection with Easterseals began via her enrollment in Early Steps when she was only a few months old. The in-home visits by Early Steps therapists began soon thereafter.
When Scarlett finished the Early Steps program, she entered Easterseals Charter School in DeLand, where she’s been enrolled of two years.
Some of the challenges Easterseals therapists have addressed with Scarlett include walking and communication. Today, Scarlett is much more exploratory and inquisitive, too, evidence she’s on the right path.
“Before Easterseals Charter School, she didn’t want to do much,” said Rachael, adding that Scarlett is feeling braver and more independent through the helpful support of the Easterseals team.
Every day, Scarlett gets stronger and more confident, and her personality continues to shine through brightly.
Her brother Emmett, age 7, is one of her biggest fans and is quick to talk about what his little sister enjoys most: Disney, “Toy Story,” “Monsters Inc.” and “Big Hero 6” top her list these days, he and his mother said, while “Tangled” remains an all-time favorite.
While muscle coordination and speech therapy continue to be developmental focus areas for Scarlett, for Rachael, Easterseals’ support has resonated above and beyond those.
“Easterseals is very helpful,” she said. “(This) is a lot of stress; it’s very stressful when you have no idea what to do. (Now) I have people I can talk to, and they answer questions.”
“We encourage families to look into Easterseals for all of the resources they provide,” she said.
Rachael and Emmett are proud of Scarlett for being a Walk With Me Ambassador, and they look forward to seeing you at Walk With Me on April 26 in Daytona Beach! Join their team, register to walk or donate at www.walkwithme.org/daytona.
Stephanie Anderson found herself in a precarious position a few months ago. Her young children, Piper (age 2) and Ethan (age 4), attended the same daycare, but things weren’t working out well for Ethan there. His behavior challenges were not ideally handled by staff, said Stephanie, resulting in him being treated differently by the teachers.
Stephanie wasn’t comfortable with this scenario, so she sought a new solution for her kids.
Living on the west side of Volusia County, Stephanie learned about the Easterseals Early Childhood Education Center, located adjacent to Trinity United Methodist Church in DeLand. After consulting the Center’s leadership about Easterseals’ services and space availability for her children, Stephanie found comfort in enrolling Ethan and Piper in a learning environment that suited her children’s needs and would help them flourish.
“At Easterseals, the teachers are more accepting and patient, and they are really good with the children who have hyperactivity challenges,” said Stephanie. “I feel more supported at Easterseals than I did at other childcare programs. Easterseals has other children there who have similar challenges to Ethan; they know how to handle him.”
Ethan and Piper no doubt keep their mom on her toes, but their vibrant personalities also reveal how excited they are to explore, learn and grow.
Stephanie said some of Ethan’s favorite activities are riding his scooter and swimming, while Piper loves her baby dolls. And, they’re enjoying school more than ever before, too.
“They love the teachers in the daycare,” said Stephanie. “(In other schools), Ethan would say how much he didn’t like school and he wouldn’t want to go in the morning. But now, every day he has a positive attitude. He doesn’t complain about going to school and he actually enjoys it.”
Reinforced by their teachers’ caring commitment, Ethan and Piper now have the structure in place to continue their love of learning and to blossom into their fullest potential at Easterseals.
Ethan, Piper, Stephanie and sister Isabella are excited to be an Easterseals Ambassador family this year. Join their team, register or donate to Walk With Me on April 26 in Daytona Beach www.walkwithme.org/daytona.
Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida welcomes Stephanie Ford to its Daytona Beach-based team. In her new role as Special Events Manager, Stephanie is responsible for developing and managing major internal and external annual fundraising events for Easterseals. Her key tasks include planning and analyzing cost-effective events; setting revenue goals; forming relationships with and soliciting event sponsors and donors; and coordinating and managing sponsors, contractors, vendors, employees and volunteers.
Stephanie holds a bachelor’s degree in Performing Arts from the University of Florida.
Before her position at Easterseals, Stephanie owned and operated Stephanie Rae Events, LLC, an event-planning organization that specializes in conducting corporate and professional retreats.
Her skills include event planning and facilitating, sponsor relations, community outreach, fundraising, public speaking and social-media marketing.
Stephanie is passionate about creating fun and positive experiences through events.
“I have been in the events field for many years and worn many different hats,” said Stephanie. “I love creating experiences for people that impact, enhance, or empower their lives.”
She’s an early riser who loves to start her day with a good book. And, when not in the office, Stephanie loves being active and makes the most of living in New Smyrna Beach with her husband, stepson and two fur babies.
“We love spending time at the beach, riding bikes, and hanging out with friends and family,” Stephanie said. “I play tennis when I can and am passionate about health and wellness.”
She added: “I'm pretty involved in my community and love supporting local business, especially if it's a food & wine event!”
Welcome, Stephanie, to the Easterseals team! Look for Stephanie at Walk With Me, Easterseals’ flagship fundraising event, on April 26 at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. Learn more about Walk With Me, donate and join a team at www.walkwithme.org/daytona.
heumatoid arthritis isn’t keeping Isabella (Izzy) Potsick, 13, from experiencing school, friends and life to its fullest. Her joints are on notice that Easterseals aquatherapy program is her unsinkable partner in helping her overcome the joint inflammation and stiffness that accompanies the disease.
In return for Izzy’s hard work, she’s gained flexibility, range of motion and a great family friend.
Izzy and her mom Janet rave about the aquatherapy program at Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida. Once a week for three years, the duo has visited therapist Shannon Garcia, PTA, for a half-hour of stretching, massage and pool exercises. The family has tried other programs in the past, but nothing compares to the results Izzy experiences from aquatherapy.
“Especially when Izzy’s muscles are so tight, Shannon tries to get them stretched out for her,” said Janet. “It makes a huge difference for Izzy and helps her through the rest of the week. Shannon is amazing,” said Janet.
“We do a lot of stretching and sometimes she massages my foot muscles and legs so they aren’t as stiff,” said Izzy. “I also do some special walks like the ‘toy soldier’ walk to get my joints moving. I do heel-to-toe walks, kneeling, kicking, and stuff like that, too.
“Every time I get out (of the pool), I feel a difference. Shannon does a great job getting my muscles loose,” Izzy added.
“Easterseals has been more helpful than any other place has been to us in terms of Izzy’s condition; it’s the only place we can come that’s even close to our house for us to get aquatherapy,” said Janet. “Easterseals has gone above and beyond even what Izzy’s doctor’s office has done for us. They’ve offered us more resources and helped more than anybody else.”
Janet advises parents to explore Easterseals’ offerings.
“It can be very overwhelming when you get a diagnosis for your child and you don’t always know who to talk to,” she said. “I would definitely say if somebody has a child with an issue that Easterseals is a great way to get them some help and find out what’s offered.
“Easterseals has provided us with an awesome amount of resources and has been very helpful in knowing what to do with Izzy and what therapy to put her in,” added Janet. “They make you feel like you can advocate for your child.”
When not working hard in Easterseals aquatherapy sessions, Izzy is loving school – science and Latin, in particular – as well as drawing, crafting and making stop-motion videos. She’s anticipating adding the April 26 Walk With Me to her social calendar, too.
Said Izzy: “I’m excited to be an Easterseals ambassador and do Walk With Me. I’m so happy.”
The Potsick family is thrilled to be part of the 2019 Honorary Ambassadors program. Join them for Walk With Me on April 26 in Daytona Beach. Join their team, register to walk or donate at www.walkwithme.org/daytona.
Like most four-year-old boys, Bob McGrath is an expert at playing. He loves to run, be silly and enjoys his toys. But, as he grew, his parents noticed that an essential ingredient was missing from his playtime: interacting with others.
Bob’s parents, Beau and Deanna, enrolled Bob in Easterseals’ PLAY Project -- “Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters” -- six months ago to help him learn to interact and communicate more effectively. It’s a kind of PLAY that’s changed their lives for the better, one session at a time.
Once a month, an Easterseals therapist specializing in PLAY Project teaches Bob and his parents how to communicate through words and actions. PLAY Project is an evidence-based, parent-implemented and intensive early intervention program for young people with autism.
“When we first started with PLAY Project, Bob had no eye contact with us at all. If we tried to play with him while he was playing with a toy, he would walk away or he wouldn’t even notice us,” said Deanna. “As a result of PLAY Project sessions, Bob is more engaged with us. He can bring us things he needs and wants so we know and we’re not so frustrated.”
Deanna says the family is halfway through PLAY Project sessions, and she and her husband feel empowered to help Bob more effectively now.
“We know the things we can do to help engage him,” she said, adding that the family and the therapist often take field trips to different locations to expand the lessons.
“For the last two sessions we went to the park where he likes to swing. He said, ‘swing!’ last time, and he doesn’t say anything usually. Karen (Bob’s therapist) has helped with his interactions. It’s amazing. It’s worth every hour,” she said.
“Our next plan is to take him to the beach, where he tends to run away from us,” said Deanna. “Karen and I will have a lesson in making him aware of his surroundings and explaining boundaries.”
Bob’s interactions with peers have improved, too. According to Deanna, Bob notices other children when he didn’t before, and he stays around them in the same area now.
The PLAY Project is Bob’s second experience with Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida. He began therapy with Easterseals through Early Steps when he was 18 months old. Deanna’s encounter with Early Steps led her to be hired as an Early Steps Family Resource Specialist in the program after Bob graduated. In her roles as a parent and staff member, she encourages families to reach out to Easterseals if they feel their child needs support in reaching his or her full potential.
“A lot of other therapists will say, ‘we’re going to do ‘textbook kids with autism’ activities,’ but Easterseals realizes every child is different,” said Deanna. “Easterseals is always willing to work with your schedule and what your goals are. They pay attention to what you have going on in your life and they work with you to get you there.”
The McGrath family is thrilled to be part of the 2019 Honorary Ambassadors program. Join them for Walk With Me on April 26 in Daytona Beach. Join their team, register to walk or donate at www.walkwithme.org/daytona.
Individuals and teams are invited to register for Walk With Me, a signature fundraiser for Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida. The event will be Friday, April 26. Gates open at 5 p.m., the walk begins at 6 p.m. and the Daytona Tortugas game and Walk With Me picnic begin at 7:05 p.m. The event will begin and end at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach and includes a 1.5-mile scenic stroll around the Sweetheart Trail in Riverside and City Island Parks in Daytona Beach.
Free registration is available at www.walkwithme.org/daytona. Online tools allow team captains to invite others to donate toward the team’s fundraising goals. Funds raised through Walk With Me support vital programs for people with disabilities in Volusia and Flagler Counties.
Walk With Me is seeking local businesses as event sponsors too. Interested parties may contact Susan Moor at email@example.com for details on sponsorship packages, which range from $250 to $5,000.
Each year, Walk With Me is led by inspiring local young ambassadors who lead teams through the event and share their stories of hope and courage while living with disabilities. The 2019 Walk With Me ambassadors include Barrington Little (age 3), Blake Ferguson (2), Isabella Potsick (13), Scarlett Valdez (5), Myracle Andrews (5), Bob McGrath (4), Carson Chesley (9), Carl Bowdre (2), Ethan MacGregor (4), and Piper MacGregor (2).
In honor of national Easterseals’ 100-year anniversary, Easterseals hopes to secure 100 teams in this year’s event.
For more information about Walk With Me, visit www.walkwithme.org/daytona. For more information about how Easterseals is taking on disability in our communities, visit www.eastersealsnecfl.org.
A funny and smart sweetheart: That’s how one of Barrington Little’s biggest fans, family member B.K. McLaurin, describes her three-year-old Easterseals preschool student. Barrington’s been named a 2019 Walk With Me honorary Ambassador and his family’s excited to share his story.
Barrington attends Easterseals Charter School in Daytona Beach. After some unsuccessful stints in area daycares, he found a safe and patient place to learn at Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida.
“He wasn’t keeping pace with other kids at the daycare, and he’s had some challenges,” said B.K., “so we were recommended to come to Easterseals and get some help with his behaviors.”
Since arriving last September, B.K. and his mother Santana Little agree Barrington has made great strides in his development.
“When he came to Easterseals, he wasn’t talking except to say eat! eat! eat!,” said B.K. “He’s progressed a lot here. He uses more words, he’s become more independent and he’s more social, too.”
Barrington’s family says he’s able to do more for himself since he started at the Charter School. He’s able to get his own shoes and helps get himself dressed. The next goal is potty training.
Barrington loves music and to play with bouncy balls and big trucks with even bigger wheels – activities he enjoys at school and home that continue to help him develop and learn.
“Being here at Easterseals is great for Barrington,” said B.K. “He can do more things on his own and he’s learning. His behavior’s improved and he’s using more words. There’s been big progress in him and we’re very happy.”
Santana and B.K. agree Easterseals has been a blessing to their family.
“Easterseals is perfect for our child. (Parenting) takes a lot of patience and time but don’t give up. There’s help out there, you just need to get connected to the right person and the right resources. Don’t give up and have faith. Once you get connected to the right resources and network, it’s smoother sailing.
Added B.K.: “Easterseals is the greatest gift ever. It’s a blessing.”
Barrington’s family is honored to be part of the 2019 Honorary Ambassadors program and invite you to walk with pride for the kids! Join them for Walk With Me on April 26 in Daytona Beach. Join Barrington’s team, register to walk or donate at www.walkwithme.org/daytona.
Blake Ferguson is an energetic two-year-old who’s ready to take on the world – a world that gets bigger and more exciting every day thanks to Early Steps and Easterseals.
Blake was born two months prematurely and with significant hearing impairment – an impairment recognized immediately by the medical team who cared for him in the neonatal intensive care unit. That’s the moment that started Donald and Tara Ferguson’s journey to Early Steps: Florida's early intervention system that offers services to eligible infants and toddlers (up to 3 years) with developmental delays. Locally, the program is operated by Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida.
Interventions began right away for Blake as an Early Steps therapist began working with him at the Ferguson’s home when he was hardly four months old. Monthly visits, which continue today, focus on playing with sounds he enjoys with the help of his hearing aids.
“The state got us connected with Early Steps right away; there was no long wait time,” said Tara. “Our contact connected us immediately with an Early Steps play therapist who visits our home once a month for an hour-long session.”
Today, Blake’s relationship with sound and his vocabulary and communication skills continue to improve through Early Steps therapy. “He’s addicted to anything that plays music,” said Tara. “If it has anything to do with music, he’s loving it.”
The Fergusons rave about the support they’ve received from Easterseals staff and the group of professionals they work with through the DeLand office.
“Deanna is fabulous with letting us know about playgroups,” said Tara. “She knows I’m a teacher, so she always emails me and lets me know when there’s a playgroup on my days off. Having a network of support has been fabulous.”
“I tell other parents to contact Easterseals and they’ll find a way to help you,” she said, “and that’s what’s been great with Easterseals in DeLand. Any question I have, Crystal finds an answer the next day.
“For me, Easterseals has been an open door. I’ve never done any of this before and every step of the way Easterseals has helped us through everything,” said Tara.
Donald and Tara encourage parents to seek out resources from Eeasterseals from the first moment of concern.
“If you’re not sure what to do, go find out,” said Donald. “Easterseals will tell you right away and lead you in the right direction. There are so many different avenues they can help you with.”
“I definitely want to continue to be involved in things even when Blake’s out of the program,” said Tara. “They’ve just been a great help for us that I cannot imagine not trying to help them as well.”
The Ferguson family is thrilled to be part of the 2019 Honorary Ambassadors program. Join them for Walk With Me on April 26 in Daytona Beach. Join their team, register to walk or donate at www.walkwithme.org/daytona.