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!

Meet Ben! A Better Hearing & Speech Month Spotlight.

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month. Each year, this month provides an opportunity to raise awareness about communication disorders, and the life-changing therapy services that people can receive.

Easterseals Central Illinois pediatric speech therapists use a variety of techniques to teach essential skills needed to be confident and successful communicators. Speech-language treatment plans and goals are developed and implemented based on each child’s specific needs, and goals of the family. Our therapists are experts in creating an environment in which children feel successful, yet are challenged to develop their individual skills.

This BHSM month, we are highlighting our friend Ben. He has made incredible progress since starting at Easterseals in 2016 when he was 4-years-old. Now, as a fearless 7-year-old he has met many milestones and overcome adversity and challenges – always keep his sweet smile on his face.

His favorite things include eating chicken (of any kind), cheese sticks & yogurt. He loves riding his bike and playing basketball & baseball with his twin brother, Jake. His favorite song is Old Town Road!

From his NICU nurses and doctors in his earl years, to his therapists, teachers, friends, and of course, family, Ben has made an impact on the lives of many people. He was diagnosed with a severe speech delay due to health complications at birth, and had a tracheostomy tube until he was three. His family shares that his diagnosis made them feel overwhelmed and nervous, but also hopeful and determined to get him the services he needed. His mom shares that “he has personally taught me a new meaning to life, and to embrace every day with joy.”

Through his hard work and perseverance and Easterseals therapy services, Ben has celebrated many milestones like graduating from the ABA program and making significant strides with his speech and learning. In the past year, Ben has improved his speech in such big ways. He has gone from using his talking device somewhat regularly to hardly ever using it now. A year ago, it was harder for others to understand him at times, and now his speech has gotten so much better and he receives many compliments on how well he speaks.

This May, we are so happy to reflect on the milestones that the kiddos at Easterseals have met. Through his hard work and determination, Ben has made significant strides, while inspiring every person he meets. He shows no signs of stopping.

Larkin’s Story

One word to describe her: happy.

Larkin loves everyone.  She is genuinely interested in people (especially babies) and enjoys getting up close and personal.  She loves to sing, draw, and play pretend.  She has an amazing memory and capacity to learn amazing facts -from music composers to move characters, and fun trivia in between.

Her parents’ dream for her is that she will always hold on to the amazingly joyful and silly spark that she has had since she was born.  She has an impressive array of interests, and her parents hope she can carve out paths of understanding that may not already be laid.  They believe she will show the world her creative side, and fill the voids in society that we may not even know need filled.

For her family, inclusion is seeing others view Larkin in the way that they do.  When individuals and teams hold the capacity for greater understanding of diverse minds and abilities, everyone will be empowered to create significant change.  When individuals are empowered to nurture their gifts and create significant change, nothing is impossible.

Larkin is unstoppable, and will blaze on in her path to changing the world.

A Telethon Host for the History Books

The 46th Annual Easterseals Telethon happened earlier this month on March 7 at the Par-A-Dice Hotel.

The culmination of Easterseals Central Illinois’ annual campaign, the telethon has always been a place where old friends can reunite, families can celebrate milestones, and members of the Easterseals family can spend an evening celebrating the organization that ties them all together.

This year’s telethon was no different.

Checks were presented. Interviews were held. Community members manned the phone bank and made calls on behalf of the children and families at Easterseals.

And this year, to make things even more special, we welcomed a guest emcee who joined the WMD Talent to host the telethon live, on-air.

Meet Hayden! (Although we know you probably have already heard of him)

This kid is going places.

Hayden is 10-years-old, loves trucks and tractors, and can tell you anything you’d like to know about earth-moving equipment. He loves anything with an engine, and enjoys going to farm shows with his dad and showing their vintage garden tractors.

In his life so far he has already met milestones, surpassed many goals, and experienced really cool things (like helping drive a PDC truck).

You may remember him as co-host of the Easterseals Century Ball back in November of 2019. He blew the crowd away with his one-liners, stage presence, and true talent for speaking to a crowd.

He brought his bright smile and endearing personality to the 46th Annual Easterseals Telethon which was broadcasted live on WMD/WYZZ and able to be streamed at CIProud.com and WMBD’s Facebook page.

Hayden has become a celebrity within our Easterseals community. A young “Mr. Easterseals.” What many people may not know is how much hard work Hayden has put into his public speaking. His mom, Daphne, has shared that before coming to Easterseals, it was hard for him to regulate his emotions. After his own hard work and help from his therapist Lauren, Hayden was able to learn to articulate his thoughts, and tools to help him move from the red zone back to the green zone.

“His therapy sessions helped bring tremendous peace to our home, helped Hayden overcome obstacles, and allowed the rest of the world to see what we see: an exceptional young man with hopes and dreams, with gifts and talents, who God will use someday to change the world. That’s what you’re supporting at Easterseals. Families. Dreams. Exceptional young people.” – shared, Daphne.

His jokes even had the WMBD anchors in stitches!

At Easterseals, we feel so honored to watch kiddos like Hayden grow their skills, discover new talents, and meet different milestones every single day.

Hayden’s Easterseals family will always be here, cheering him on! We can’t wait to see where his future takes him.

Click here to watch a video featuring more of Hayden’s story.

100% Included, 100% Empowered – Bryce’s Story

Bryce appreciates the adventure in every day.

Bryce’s high school graduation announcement picture.

He loves planning and going on vacations, and his parents share that he loves to keep busy through helping around the house and in the community, and by fostering his creativity through art projects, as well as singing, dancing, and acting.

In January of this year, Bryce performed in Legally Blonde – his 7th production with the Penguin Project, a theatre group which produces musicals every year starring individuals with disabilities and their peer mentors. Of the seven productions he has been a part of, he has had speaking roles in the last five, requiring him to memorize lines. Most recently, Bryce played Kyle the UPS Driver, and stole the show when leading the company in an Irish dance.  

Bryce performing as Kyle in the Penguin Project’s production of Legally Blonde the Musical.

Bryce was the first child through the Easterseals Early Autism Diagnostic Clinic in January of 2003. His mom, Libby, shares that “Bryce has grown tremendously from our early days with Easterseals, and we continue to observe and celebrate that growth daily. Some memorable highlights include riding his bicycle without training wheels, using his language to convince us to get a puppy, graduating with his high school class, and planning vacations. Through the Penguin Project he has demonstrated growth in his acting ability, delivering multiple lines in speaking roles on stage in front of more than 1000 people.”

Bryce performing in the Penguin Project’s 2018 production of Mary Poppins.

Bryce’s parents want him to always have a purpose driven life, in a place where he is happy and celebrated — not just tolerated. To their family, inclusion is a feeling of acceptance not a place.  The barriers to achieve inclusion need to be removed for individuals to achieve their greatest potential. 

His mom shares that “it has always been important for us to work hard so that Bryce is a member of his community.  That includes being in classes with his Gen Ed peers as a part of his school community, going to restaurants and stores in our local community, and travelling the world as a part of his global community.  Bryce loves to fly on airplanes, ride on subways, trains, and buses.  He has explored much of the US, Canada, Mexico and Europe.  He loves hiking and driving through mountains and National Parks.  He has explored Denali in Alaska, the French Alps, the Smokey Mountains, and the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to the Canadian Rockies.  Inclusion means that Bryce is accepted wherever he is in the world.”

Bryce and his family (Brother, Koen; Mom, Libby; Dad, Frank) enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery during a family vacation to Yosemite National Park.

For their family, being empowered means having the knowledge to confidently advocate for Bryce and other families with special needs children.  Together with friends and partners, they have hosted an annual gathering of nearly 100 organizations from around Central Illinois for the past 13 years to showcase their services across the special needs community.  They have also worked with their school district to adopt programs to foster empowerment and inclusion.

Go Grease Lightning! Bryce and members of the company of Grease performing one of the musical’s biggest numbers.

 “I always say no one gets where they’re going on their own, and we certainly didn’t. It takes a village to raise a child, and Easterseals has been a huge part of our village.”

We are so excited to see where Bryce’s bright future takes him.

Bryce and his family attending the Easterseals Century Ball in November of 2019.

Learn more about Bryce’s journey with the Penguin Project by watching his mom’s heartfelt testimonial below!

Easterseals Ambassadors: Where Are They Now?

In 100 years, Easterseals has had the honor of having some remarkable people pass through our doors. As we prepare for the Easterseals Century Ball we are taking the time to reflect on past Ambassadors. Read on to see what one of our past Ambassadors is up to now!

Jessica Rosenbohm

Jessica can do remarkable things thanks to her hard work at Easterseals and the way that emphasis was always placed on what she could do, rather than what she couldn’t. For Jessica, empowerment stems from having the fortitude and courage to live a satisfying life while contributing to society. She has felt empowerment many times and in many ways, from being able to walk at 2-and-a-half years old to winning golf medals in Special Olympics. Now she puts that empowerment into action.

For the last 13 years Jessica has been a full time employee at Peoria Production Shop in north Peoria. She has worked in several areas around the shop including packaging, labeling, staging and assembly.

When we caught up with her at work, she was working on one of the new auto-bag machines. “I like it over here,” she said, as she demonstrated the machine. Her supervisor, Patrick Stark, said she has been successful in every job she has taken on in the shop. He describes her as kind and hardworking. “She is always upbeat,” he said, “She walks laps during break and picks up pieces of wood to give to the maintenance guys who build stuff with them — she is very thoughtful like that”.

Kindness and a strong work ethic are two very important things to the team at Peoria Production Shop, whose mission is to be the premiere employer of individuals with disabilities. For more than 75 years they have been providing comprehensive packaging, manufacturing, assembly and custom labor solutions, and they do it well. The Peoria Production Shop was recently awarded Caterpillar’s Supplier Quality Excellence Process Gold Certification, which requires a proven track record of excellence in quality, delivery and cost, and is only awarded to those who demonstrate this level of performance on an ongoing basis. They manage to achieve this level of excellence while providing a sense of family and community amongst their 184 employees.

In addition to helping her team at Peoria Production Shop, Jessica finds time to give back. She works tirelessly each and every year to support the Easterseals Telethon. So far she has raised nearly $43,000 for Easterseals Central Illinois since 2005, with no signs of stopping.

Thank you, Jessica!