Greater Good

Easter Seals Disability Services

Interview by Jennifer Acosta Scott

Children with special needs. Veterans. Healthy children. Caregivers. Families in need of counseling. And the list goes on and on. Every one of the services they provide to help these individuals is in keeping with the stated purpose of Easter Seals: Creating opportunities that advance the independence of individuals with disabilities and other special needs. “Our primary mission is to improve the quality of life for these individuals, as well as their families,” says Jennifer Friesen, the chapter’s VP of autism and therapeutic services. Easter Seals’ history in the Metroplex dates back to 1939, two decades after Ohio businessman Edgar Allen founded its predecessor, the National Society for Crippled Children, in a Cleveland suburb. Since then, the local organization has grown rapidly, serving more than 5,000 individuals and families in North Texas each year. For many years, North Texas had two Easter Seals chapters, with the Fort Worth chapter serving adults and the Dallas site serving children. However, the two merged in 2007. Combining the two chapters made it possible for local residents to receive services without having to trek all the way across the metro area.

We thought we could do better as a nonprofit by starting to provide adult services in Dallas and pediatric services in Fort Worth,” Friesen said.

Adults who come to Easter Seals can take advantage of a variety of services, such as their Outpatient Rehabilitation program, providing physical therapy and occupational therapy. Those with disabilities can maintain their independence through Easter Seals’ Personal Support and Homemaker services, which bring helpers into the home to help with daily activities like bathing, dressing, laundry and housecleaning. Respite care is also available to relieve adults who are taking care of a loved one with cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s disease or another disabling condition. For disabled adults who wish to enter or re-enter the workforce, Easter Seals can provide job training, employment assistance and other related services.

While some of the medical services at Easter Seals may be covered by a client’s insurance, a large portion of the assistance is provided free of charge, paid for by a mix of federal grants, endowments from other charities and donations from corporate sponsors like BNSF, Tom Thumb and CVS.

“We really don’t want to discriminate based on money,” Friesen says. “A lot of our families do have insurance to cover the services or parts of the services. But we do have funding support to help others—like those with really high deductibles, for example.”

Like adults, children in North Texas may also receive medical rehabilitation services through Easter Seals. However, youngsters also have access to special kids-only programs, like the Autism Treatment Program, which launched in 2008 as a partnership with the University of North Texas. Partially funded by a grant from the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, a state agency, the program serves children ages two to 11 who have autism spectrum disorders. Preschool-aged kids may attend their Early Childhood Program, which provides 20 hours of one-on-one therapy, while schoolaged children can attend afterschool sessions. All of the autism programs are taught using the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) approach, which teaches kids to modify socially unacceptable behaviors into more mainstream ones.

“We’re studying what the child’s behavior is, and what the function of that behavior is,” Friesen says. “Are they seeking attention? Trying to get out of an activity? We write certain goals to address and make sure they’re building those skill areas. If we build a child’s skill set in areas of strength, a lot of behaviors considered undesirable will disappear on their own.”

Another highlight of Easter Seals’ services is the Texas Star Academy, a preschool in Grapevine that places kids with autism and other disabilities in a learning environment alongside normally-developing peers. Both types of students benefit, Friesen says, by learning new skills from each other.

Obviously, Easter Seals of North Texas, provides a wide range of services to the residents of the Metroplex—but many of them would not be possible without private donations. Thus, the organization has become quite adept at popular and successful fundraisers. Their most recent event was a “Hats off to Mothers” luncheon at the Hotel Adolphus in Dallas on October 24th, which honored several DFW-area women for their contributions to the community. “It allows us the opportunity to honor women who are mothers and examples of philanthropy in our community,” Friesen says.

Another recent event was Easter Seals’ “Boots, Beer and BBQ” event on September 22nd at Eddie Deen’s Ranch in Dallas. The Western-style party, which was hosted by Century 21 Judge Fite Company, featured food, music, dancing and silent auctions.

Those who want to get involved with fundraising efforts for Easter Seals will have their next chance on March 2nd, when the organization’s “Walk with Me” community event will take place.

Walkers can solicit donations from friends for their participation, and each walker will be paired with an “honorary ambassadorӉ€” a child or adult with a disability who has benefited from Easter Seals’ services. Breaking with tradition, the 2013 walk will take place inside Grapevine Mills Mall. “That way we can contend with any inclement weather,” Friesen says. Registration information will appear on their website, www.ntx.easterseals.com in December.

While North Texans are sure to have a good time while fundraising for Easter Seals, Friesen says the parties never cause them to lose sight of their mission: To help advance the lives of those who need a helping hand.

“It really is all about serving our community,” Friesen says. “We want to make their quality of life as good as it can be.”

Helping Veterans | We celebrate America’s veterans on November 11th, but Easter Seals takes care of them all year round with their Military and Veterans Services programs. In North Texas, wounded and disabled soldiers can use their outpatient rehabilitation programs, while those who wish to re-enter the civilian workforce can participate in their employment services. Child care and respite care is also available to help ease the burdens of caregivers and families.

On the national level, Easter Seals has Community OneSource, an organization dedicated to connecting veterans and their families with private, public and not-for-profit community resources to help them with problems not addressed by their government benefits. Community OneSource has helped veterans find legal aid, child care providers, counseling services, options for higher education and more.

Community OneSource is provided free of charge to veterans, mobilized reservists and their families. To connect with them, email veterans@easterseals.com or call (866) 423-4981.

Learn more about Easter Seals of North Texas on their website at www.ntx.easterseals.com.