Zoey is doing the unthinkable

Zoey’s mom describes her as a fighter.

After receiving her diagnosis of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) just over a year ago, Zoey began working with Easterseals therapists Shannon and Meghan. Zoey is now in therapy twice a week at Easterseals and is making great progress. In September, Zoey achieved a huge milestone – she took her first independent steps!

“On paper, she should never ever walk. But this little girl is a fighter. She may be tiny, but she is fierce. She is special,” says Zoey’s mom, Ali.

Zoey and her mom Ali were recently featured on WMBD news! Check it out below:

iCan Bike Volunteers Needed!

Confidence grows on two wheels!

We are seeking volunteers for our annual iCan Bike program in East Peoria! iCan Bike teaches children with disabilities how to ride a two-wheel bike. This is a great volunteer opportunity for student-athletes, community groups, church groups, workplace teams, or anyone looking to make a big impact in child’s life while getting some exercise.

Spotters are needed to walk/jog/run alongside riders to provide encouragement and physical support as they learn to ride.

Volunteer Requirementsminimum of 10 volunteers needed per session = 50 in total

  • Need to be at least 15 years old and able to walk/jog/run alongside riders to provide encouragement and physical support as needed.
    • Volunteers will move about 3 miles per session
  • Click link for more information and volunteer registration – www.esci.link/icanbike

Ameren Illinois is empowering families through their support of The Autism Collective’s family navigation services.

When faced with the diagnosis, or potential diagnosis, of Autism Spectrum Disorder, it can be overwhelming for families. In 2019 Easterseals Central Illinois and OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois came together to launch The Autism Collective, which helps end the isolation felt by those living with Autism. Thanks to a $30,000 grant from Ameren Illinois, families will be able to take advantage of The Autism Collective’s Family Navigation services at no charge.

This unique program helps families and caregivers with a way to connect to services, like education, treatment, medical and community-based services for children with Autism. Since its inception in 2019, The Autism Collective has served more than 800 families across 47 counties in Illinois.

“Ameren’s continued support of The Autism Collective shows their dedication to supporting families in Central Illinois. This grant makes it possible for families to access this service free of charge. Our community is full of amazing resources for children and adults with Autism. The Autism Collective is vital in helping families navigate the complex web of services”.

Steve Thompson, President and CEO of Easterseals Central Illinois

The Autism Collective is housed in the Easterseals building, alongside the Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinic and other Autism services. Learn more about The Autism Collective at www.TheAutismCollective.org

Thank You for Making Progress Possible in 2021

As we close out 2021, we want to take a moment to say thank you.

Thank you to our staff. Thank you for remaining resilient and committed to the mission of Easterseals throughout the ups and downs of 2021. Thank you for always finding a way to serve our families.

Thank you to our families. Thank you for trusting us to help your child and your family throughout the past year. Thank you for all the unseen work; the at-home exercises, driving to appointments, connecting to telehealth appointments, and being our stand-in when we were not able to connect in person.

Thank you to the kids we serve. Thank you for your hard work.

Thank you to our board members. Thank you for providing vital leadership during this crazy time.

Thank you to our donors. Every dollar you give makes it possible for us to continue services through whatever each year brings.

Thank you to our corporate partners and grant funders. Years of partnership provide a solid foundation for us to plan for the future. Your continued support through 2021 has empowered us to

Thank you to our volunteers, especially our event committees who have remained committed to the goal of raising funds during a pandemic. Countless hours of planning and research go into each event, and we are forever grateful.

Thank you to our community as we continue to strive towards 100% inclusion and 100% Empowered.

Thank you.

2021 Holiday Shopping Guide & Wish List

Each year we are asked to share some of our therapists’ favorite toys for holiday gifts. We are so excited to be teaming up with our friends at Gingerbread House Toys in Bloomington to bring you our annual shopping guide! These toys were hand-selected by our therapists to help children of all ages with their development. These are also all part of our therapists’ wish list, so if you are purchasing for a child you know, consider supporting our pediatric therapy program with some of these great resources as well!

Click here to shop our Wishlist

Suggestions From Speech Language Pathologists

Suggestions From Our Counselors

Toys and games that help children express their emotions, practice mindfulness, and encourage turn-taking and critical thinking skills are great for every age!

Suggestions From Our Applied Behavior Analysis Team

Suggestions from Timber Pointe Outdoor Center

Sensory products/solutions are vital to creating a calm space for campers, or children in general. Many of these are portable and easy to pack in a backpack or purse to help those who are overstimulated wherever they are. They are also a great tool to help children and campers who are seeking stimulation and need an outlet to do it in an appropriate way for the setting.

Odie’s Journey

Last month we celebrated as our friend Odie graduated from ABA therapy and began attending kindergarten in his home town! Odie was receiving speech, occupational and ABA therapy with Easterseals Central Illinois for 3 years. His parents sat down with Molly Hogeboom, Easterseals Community Engagement Manager, to discuss this milestone, their journey and their hopes for the future.

Tell me a little about Odie? What are some of his favorite things right now?

  • JP – Oh Gosh, probably still his Hot Wheels cars and little action figures, any of the little surprise boxes and things he gets to open up like that, and his iPad, his games, videos games, always wanting to play on that stuff too.
  • Shera – I would add running and playing outside, being on his trampoline, anything outdoors I think Odie loves.

Is there anything special you love about his personality? His little character?

  • Shera – Just how sweet he is. And he can be a stinker, but I love it

What brought you guys to Easterseals?

JP – Originally, we were looking for somewhere that could help Odie more than what it seemed like he was getting with preschool. We tried that out, and Easterseals was the nearest place that offered those services for where we are; we are here in Galesburg. You guys were able to get us in. I don’t know if it was really that much faster than anywhere else, but then once we were there, we were just really happy with the work that everyone was doing with him there, the progress he was making, and so once we saw all of that that was going on with his therapist, with the therapy, we just wanted to continue on with Easterseals.

What is Odie’s diagnosis?

  • Shera – Autism Spectrum Disorder, Apraxia, and Sensory Processing Disorder

What services did or does Odie receive from Easterseals?

  • Shera – He received ABA up until recently. He was receiving OT and speech, and he may continue with speech there.

What types of progress or milestones did you see come through during your time at Easterseals?

  • JP – Definitely, his communication improved a ton over the last three years because when we first came, he could say ‘Mama,’ ‘Dada,’ ‘Nono,’ ‘Bapa.’ Really that was about it like two consonant sound words and only a handful of things. Now he tries to repeat back anything and everything. It still might not be the most understandable to most people, but for us, being around him, we can almost always tell what it is that he is trying to say. It’s not just single words. He is trying to say complete sentences, so that’s been huge. Initially, we wondered if we were ever going to see an improvement in his communication like that.

 I remember one time that you told me that you had experienced some great progress in being able to go out to eat?

  • Shera – Yeah, that was a huge thing for our whole family at one time. Going out to eat was just something we didn’t do. I mean, we just got used to that, being home. Now Odie will go and sit, he won’t sit the whole time, but I think that’s any kid. That was a huge milestone for us because it was something that was kind of taken away from our family for a short time.
  • JP – Yeah, we didn’t really go anywhere or try to take him anywhere. Even to the store just to pick up one thing, ‘oh need to grab some milk’ and run back out, even something as simple as that was a huge feat in itself to accomplish.

 And now you would say you are able to do that more often than you used to be?

  • Shera – Oh yeah, for sure.
  • JP – Throw him in the shopping cart, and he goes for a ride until he’s ready to get down and look at toys. Then it’s trying to get him roped back in and whatnot. Being able to go out and actually do things and not be restricted or worrying about ‘oh when am I gonna have some help so I can actually run my errands I need to get done’ it’s been great.

What happened here at Easterseals a few weeks ago?

  • Shera – He graduated from ABA; it was a bittersweet day, I think, for his dad and me. I don’t think Odie quite understood what was going on. It was so awesome to have accomplished that after what we have put into the last, over three years. It was awesome to see how far he’s come and to move on to the next chapter.
  • JP – And to see everyone celebrating him like that and how excited he was to run down the line and give everyone high-fives, like ‘I don’t know what I’m so excited about with everybody here, but it’s really cool, are you all here for me?’
  • Shera – I think I sat in the parking lot for a long time and cried just because it was such a; it was something I wasn’t sure if we were going to get to this soon for him and see him move on to kindergarten. So that was such a big moment, I think, for all of us.

 And I’m assuming with the graduation of ABA; it’s because Odie was meeting specific goals that they set for him, so he could move onto kindergarten, right?

  • Shera – Yeah, he’s where he needs to be cognitively. The only place we’re not where we are is his communication, but that wasn’t a reason for him to stay in ABA, so yeah, he was where he needed to be.

You guys traveled from Galesburg to our Peoria center and used our lobby while Odie was in therapy. What does it mean to parents to have a functional and welcoming lobby at Easterseals?

  • Shera – We traveled, 50 minutes there, 50 minutes home, and we obviously stayed since we were that far away. We were usually in our car unless we were making target trips or running errands. When they did put the Keurig in the lobby, that was so big for us. There were mornings I didn’t have time to make coffee because I was so busy with Odie, and we were getting out the door. So to be able to go in and sit and be comfortable and not have to be in my car and have some coffee was really huge. I think it would be for any family.
  • JP – And then not even having to think, ‘okay, so I got an hour, I’m going to run to McDonald’s real fast so that I can grab a coffee’ and then come back and wait for him to get out. It was nice. It was comfortable, instead of sitting in the car all the time and just having somewhere to be. The wifi in the lobby made a huge difference. The cell phone service wasn’t always the greatest down there in the parking lot, so having the wifi inside was huge. All those little amenities, the little things, they add up.

What does Easterseals mean to your family?

Shera – I think Easterseals has been life-changing for us. Odie was not social, unable to really communicate at all. We could finally start doing things as a family. I think it was definitely life-changing. I’m not sure where we would be today without Easterseals.

  • JP – Yeah, the way that they’ve helped him to be more self-aware and be able to monitor and handle his inhibitive behaviors. Like the repetitive things that caused us problems in the beginning. Instead of playing with toys, it was always lining up toys which was one of those really common things. They just worked on all those little things, a little bit at a time to help him overcome all these different issues, which helped him function a little bit more normally.
  • Shera – And they were able to give us strategies, you know, as parents to Odie. Strategies to work on daily, which was a really big deal. Kaitlyn, his BCBA, was amazing. She was so great at tracking everything, keeping in touch with us, texting us. When we were uneasy about the day, I felt like I could text her and check in on him. It’s definitely been a life-changer.
  • JP – Even when we transitioned into the school, all of the information that they had that they passed along to the school district, one of the school therapists was like, ‘I don’t really need to do an evaluation, because I have such detailed and good information that came out of Easterseals.’ They said, ‘we have a really good idea of Odie and his needs and the things that help him,’ and so just knowing that the therapists there put in all that work and did all of that amazing stuff to help him and how it’s helping him now too.
  • Shera – Yeah, they were always so on top of everything and beyond.

 Do you feel like Easterseals was an extension of your family?

  • Shera – Oh, absolutely.
  • JP – There would be people that we would run into or talk to or meet, and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, we know Odie! He comes by and visits me in my office when he does his walks’ and things like that and so people who we have no idea who they were, what they did there, anything like that in completely different offices and parts of the building, they knew Odie. So he was definitely well known there by everyone.

Would you guys say you ‘never felt alone’ when you were connected with Easterseals?

JP – That’s tough. Having a child with special needs can be very isolating. Yes, we had the help with Easterseals, but they were only there for us while he was there.

Shera –I felt like I could message his therapist in the evening or on the weekends, and she would be very quick to respond, so I would say I didn’t really feel alone when I could reach out to her

  • JP –We were always welcomed. Everybody was always so friendly. As Shera said, our therapist was always responding very quickly to any kind of questions or concerns that we had. She was amazing. I guess I was just speaking more along the lines of just life with a special needs child and how we talked about earlier, with not being able to go out for dinner and things like that. Those kinds of times are when it was isolating.

What do you hope for Odie in the future?

  • Shera – My hopes are for his speech to develop more, his communication, I think that’s number one. I hope that he will be a little more leveled and less anxious, especially right now, during transitions. I think seeing him happy and thrive in normal, daily life as he gets older is my biggest thing.
  • JP – Yeah, absolutely, the communication, continuing to improve on that, and just living the best life he can in the future, as independently as he can in the future for himself.

What do you want to tell Odie? If Odie was here, what would you say to him?

  • JP – Keep going, buddy.
  • Shera – I would tell him that he’s bright and amazing and that he’s got this no matter what. I think it is my biggest thing. No matter what anyone says, he’s got this.
  • Shera- One of my biggest fears is that he won’t be treated equally, especially with him going into public school. I think that’s probably what I would say to Odie, reassure him of how great he is. And yeah, life’s tough, and it’s going to be tough, but he has a great family, great parents that are going to get him through it. And I would just want him to know that he has that support always from everyone.

Is there anything else you want to add?

  • Shera – I think I just want to praise Easterseals because before, it most definitely changed my life, and it most importantly changed Odie’s and he’s thriving, and we are where we are because of you guys, and you know, I’m so thankful for that, I think our whole family is.
  • JP – We’re thankful for everything Easterseals did for Odie and for us to help improve his life and our lives. Because we really wouldn’t be here, where we are right now, if we wouldn’t have had all the therapy and all the support over the years. And seeing the improvements, you know we always tried to do everything that we could, but we’re not therapists, we don’t have the experience they have, we don’t have all the knowledge to help him in the ways that he needed was beyond our means. We are so very thankful for everything they helped him accomplish and for helping him get to where he is today.

Learn more about Easterseals Central Illinois services by visiting eastersealsci.com

Because of YOU

Because of you, when disaster struck, we were able to launch a Telehealth program within weeks, allowing us to continue to see families when in person therapy was not an option.

As of May 2020, our entire therapy team was able to be trained, and virtual therapy was resumed with 70% of Easterseals families.

“Even though they may not be able to be with their therapist in person, it is powerful knowing we can make a difference virtually with the use of Telehealth, while protecting the safety of our clients and their families.” – Carolyn, Easterseals Physical Therapist

Because of you, Timber Pointe Outdoor Center was able to offer 48 respite weekends to families, at no cost to them. Within a matter of days, all 48 slots were filled, and campers with special needs and their families were able to enjoy much needed time in the great outdoors.

Your support was also instrumental in opening up and subsidizing day camp registrations for campers in summer 2020, as well as helped launch the TPOC-U e-learning program when schools were unable to open.

Because of you, when students at the Easterseals Learning Academy returned to school in Fall 2020 for the first time since March, they were greeted with a wonderful surprise.

Their outside patio had been transformed into a bright, colorful Sensory Garden, designed to create a multi-sensory experience for students and to enhance their learning environment. Filled with artwork created by Teacher’s Aide and free-hand artist Niccole Maloney, the garden’s vibrant multi-colored flowers, insects and giant bird promote visual stimulation and help students with their social emotional development.

Because of you, we were able to break ground on our Growing Together project in Bloomington-Normal.

In 2019 we embarked on the Growing Together Capital Campaign in Bloomington-Normal – a partnership with the BN YMCA and OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center to create a community center that will unite all members of our community, and propel our organizations into a new era of service to the entire region. This new YMCA Community Center will help Easterseals bring therapy to where kids are, serve the entire family in an easily-accessible location and provide collaborative care in an inclusive facility. This project is scheduled to be completed this summer.

All of these exciting endeavors, and many, many more were made possible because of you.

Thank you for always rooting for the children and families served by Easterseals.

We couldn’t do what we do, without you.

A Far-Reaching Footprint: Meet Titus & Teo

Titus (left) and Teo (right) with their mom, Alison and dad, Blake!

Meet Titus and Teo! These brothers and their parents travel from Macomb, IL to the Bloomington Easterseals Central Illinois Center almost every day to receive services they need to reach their full potential.

Titus is five years old. He loves music, and also is a young scientist. He loves doing experiments and seeing what he can make happen. He also loves superheroes – especially Spiderman. Titus has been receiving services from Easterseals the past few years, working on speech, eye contact, imaginative play and playing with others. His parents share that Easterseals has made a huge difference for Titus, giving him the courage and confidence to do simple day-to-day tasks, as well as giving his family everything they need to help him make progress.

Teo is three years old, and is already a big foodie. His parents share that there hasn’t been anything that he has tried and hasn’t liked. In fact, he recently became interested in helping his mom and dad cook. When not watching Cat in the Hat or Kung Fu Panda, he can be found doing puzzles, playing with dinosaurs and trains, or coloring. Teo sometimes has difficulties regulating his sensory and behavior by himself. Through autism services at Easterseals, Teo has made huge progress. He and his family now have tools and resources for how he can regulate his negative behaviors.

Titus & Teo are both Easterseals Heroes in the upcoming Easterseals Hero Walk (part of the Easterseals Community Rally). You can help support their progress and celebrate the milestones they have made over the past year by participating in the Easterseals Hero Walk on April 24 at Illinois Wesleyan. For more information or to register, visit www.esci.link/herowalk. You can also raise funds for the Easterseals Hero Walk by visiting justgiving.com/campaign/eastersealscommunityrally.

We are so proud of both Titus & Teo, and the many milestones they have made, and thankful to their parents for commuting several hours every day so they can receive the services they need to be 100% Included, 100% Empowered. We are excited to continue to watch them grow, and are thankful to their parents for trusting Easterseals to be a part of their sons’ stories.

Volunteer Spotlight: Spotlight on John Pratt

John has been one of the race directors of Run the Woods for over twenty years! This 5K/8K trail run and 1-Mile Hike is held on the first Saturday of October at Easterseals Timber Pointe Outdoor Center, and brings several hundred runners, volunteers and supporters to Timber Pointe every year while raising money for Easterseals through race entries and sponsorships.

He shares, “I love Run the Woods, because it showcases the wonderful mission of Easterseals and the beauty of Timber Pointe in a powerful way to weekend athletes every year. When I am at Timber Pointe, I reflect on my many blessings and I know I need to give back to our community and to Easterseals.”

John and his wife, Paula, attending Easterseals’ Grape Soiree.

John has been practicing law for twenty-nine years with the Bloomington law firm, Pratt and Pratt, P.C. He enjoys spending time with family and friends, community service, music, swimming and the great outdoors.

Thank you, John, for your dedication to the children and families we serve!

A Message of Thanks from Isaac’s Mom

In a year filled with uncertainty, want to share a story with you that fills our hearts with thankfulness.

This year, so many generous supporters stepped up to help Easterseals families continue their therapy through Telehealth. Here is a message of thanks from our friend Isaac’s mom, Christina.

“Telehealth has been a huge blessing to our family during these uncertain times. Isaac gets sick very easily, and unfortunately, sickness has caused him to be hospitalized multiple times.

For the safety of Isaac and his siblings, I made the decision in March to stop all therapies. Easterseals contacted me and asked if Isaac and his older brother Elijah would like to participate in telehealth, and of course we said yes!

Children with special needs thrive on structure, and your donations help our kids continue to reach their goals in therapy without regression. We are so grateful for Telehealth because even though life has been turned upside down, our kids can still interact with their therapists, putting a bit of structure and normalcy back in their lives. Thank you so much for supporting Easterseals. It means the world to us and other Easterseals families!”

You can learn more about Isaac here and get your holiday shopping started with limited edition gifts inspired by Easterseals ambassadors, like Isaac, here!