A Back to School Surprise

When our 28 students at the Easterseals Learning Academy returned to school 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! This active, outdoor space, made possible by a small grant from PNC, was 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.

Our friend friend, Tana (pictured above), loves going down the slide and blowing bubbles. This sensory garden allows her to flourish in an environment that is safe, educational AND fun. So far, she has enjoyed hopping on the hopscotch while her teachers count the numbers, bouncing on the tires and, of course, sitting on the slide and blowing bubbles.

Her teachers share: “Tana is a cause and effect girl. There is a big wind tunnel in the small corridor where [the playground is]. I believe she might be using the wind for better bubbles, which is why she is drawn to this area.”

According to Andrea Hartnett, Director of the Easterseals Learning Academy, “This is a huge asset to our program that we continue to build and expand upon… We now have three spaces to use outdoors, which has given us more options to educate students outside as recommended by the State Board of Education. The Sensory Garden is just another example of how we can meet the students’ needs.”

In addition to the PNC First Grant, several donors including Barr Landscaping, Born Paint, Ace Hardware, and many others came together and made this garden such a special escape for our students. To see the impact that this garden has on the Easterseals Learning Academy students, you need to look no further than the expression of true joy on Tana’s face below.

Just as small acts of kindness made this garden possible, YOU too can make a meaningful impact for kids and families at Easterseals by becoming a Milestone Maker. Through an automatically recurring monthly donation of $10, $15 or $20, your support adds up to make a big difference, especially as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact our organization and our community.

Passage to India: A Cultural Feast at Home

Passage to India is an annual celebration benefitting Easterseals, typically held at the Peoria Civic Center that is widely recognized as a premier cultural event in Central Illinois. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing guidelines, we pivoted to a virtual event, titling this year’s celebration “A Cultural Feast At Home”. This new approach provided guests with an authentic and unique cultural experience from the comforts of their own home, benefitting Easterseals Central Illinois.

Several guests enjoying their meals at home in a small group setting.

Thanks to the generosity of the restaurant Indian Tadka and our Passage to India Culinary Committee, participants received a delicious meal to be enjoyed in their own homes. In addition to the authentic cuisine, participants were also able to view a life virtual program featuring traditional Indian music, an exciting dance performance, presentation of the prestigious Banyan Tree award, and a fashion show featuring several Easterseal Ambassador Families.

Left to Right: Helen & Chris Chadwick (Passage to India Co-Chairs), Mo & Steve Thompson (Easterseals President & CEO), and Kris Maillacheruvu & Regina Gross (Passage to India Co-Chairs).

Longtime volunteer and owner of PJ Dance Academy, Prasanna Jeer, choreographed a fashion show featuring several past and present Easterseals Ambassadors. The full fashion show can be viewed here:

We also enjoyed live performances from musicians across the country! Indro Roy-Chowdhury, an international artist, played the Sitar live from New York City. We were also joined live from Los Angeles by Suman Laha. Laha plays the Veena (a stringed instrument) and has earned an international reputation of considerable distinction in the world of Indian Classical Music. We were also joined locally by Manpreet Bedi and Subhasis Mukherjee who both played the Tabla.

We were thrilled to present the Banyan Tree Award to two very deserving winners, Rajiv L. Gupta and Dr. Mehmood Khan.

To view the musicians’ performances and watch remarks made by the Banyan Tree awardees, watch below.

Thank you to everyone who made Virtual Passage a tremendous success! We look forward to seeing everyone in person next year at the 15th Annual Passage to India.

To stay up to date on what events we have coming up, visit eastersealsci.com/events.