Easterseals Living Options’ Coordinated Life Services Supports Mellisa’s Mental Health Journey
The destruction of people’s physical and mental health from trauma, heartbreak and loss have been frequent story themes during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re happy that Mellisa’s story has a very different outcome.
In the years before the pandemic, Mellissa had managed to keep moving forward despite the hardships she had experienced in childhood including physical and emotional abuse. Her teen years included stays in foster homes, a misdiagnosis of her mental health issues and wrongly prescribed medication. These contributed to years of emotional and behavioral struggles. Eventually she temporarily lost custody of her children.
By 2020 she was married, had regained custody of her two children, and she and her husband had two more children together. Mellisa was trying to make sure her children’s childhood was better than hers had been, but she was still faced daily struggles with depression, fear, and anxiety. She depended on her husband to do everything from cooking to shopping to taking the kids to school. After her previous experience, she no longer trusted medical professionals or any prescribed medicine to help with her struggles.
Mellisa’s outlook began to change when her 8-year-old son received a diagnosis of autism from the local regional center. She had not been aware of autism before, but soon realized that the associated behaviors were ones she recognized in herself. She soon had her own referral to the regional center resulting in her own autism diagnosis, and additional resources.
The regional center brought in Easterseals Coordinated Life Services to support Mellisa with her journey to emotional stability and an improved quality of life for herself, her son and the rest of their family.
Her Easterseals Community Support Specialist, Gia, was a supporter and advocate whose encouragement, praise and cheerleading was invaluable in assisting Mellisa with getting her life back on track. Since Mellisa was uncomfortable with video calls, they had long phone appointments during the pandemic where they worked to lift Mellisa out of her depression, help her overcome her fears, and tackle her anxiety.
“Through our conversations together, I coached and mentored her to advocate for herself,” said Gia. “Rather than giving up on treatments because of a previous bad experience, Mellisa developed the courage to speak up for herself to ensure the care she was receiving had a positive impact.”
Gia also encouraged Mellisa to accept input, consider different options, and supported her with her decision-making. In the process, they reduced her difficulties with communication and developed a relationship based on trust, where Mellisa learned to accept praise and support.
“In many ways, Mellisa is no different from the women I have worked with in my previous role as a marriage family therapist,” added Gia. “She just needed the courage to focus on her own self-care, change things up in her life and advocate for her and her son’s needs.”
With Gia’s support, Mellisa secured her son an Individualized Education Program (IEP) at school, and developed a new relationship with a therapist that has empowered her and helped her find her voice. Setting aside the mental health stigmas that can be part of her Hispanic culture; she made the decision to try taking a new medication, which added to the transformation of her life. She now goes to the gym, maintains her therapy and has a better relationship with everyone in her life.
Reflecting on her experience with Gia, and how their bond helped turn her life around, Mellisa commented that, “She helped me feel like I had an advocate” adding, “we need more people who give us warmth and treat us as actual human begins and not just as a ‘case’.”
Mellissa now focuses on paying it forward, looking to add her voice to the movement to end the stigma around mental illness and increase available resources to benefit and transform the lives of others.
Check out the video of Mellisa and Gia’s reunion at The Broad art museum in Downtown Los Angeles, a place they talked about visiting after the pandemic! When The Broad heard Mellisa’s story, they provided VIP tickets so she and Gia could see all the museum’s fabulous exhibits in style!
Local Nonprofit Donates Books and Blankets to Kids at Child Development Centers in Ontario
Wednesday, November 30, 2022, 5:40 PM
Easterseals Southern California’s (ESSC) Child Development Centers in Ontario, CA have benefited fro…
Since 2018, infants to three-year-olds at Easterseals SoCal’s (ESSC) Child Development Centers in Ontario, CA have benefited from the Books and Blankets for Babies project.
Led by the local Epsilon Sigma chapter, Books and Blankets for Babies provides about 100 bags annually for ESSC’s two Child Development Centers in Ontario. The bags are filled with books, blankets, and parent pamphlets in English and Spanish, encouraging reading with babies and young children.
Kay Weis, an honorary Epsilon Sigma member, age 104, has lovingly crocheted the soft, cuddly blankets.
Since the program’s inception, honorary Epsilon Sigma member Kay Weis, age 104, has lovingly crocheted the soft, cuddly blankets. Through the generosity of Kay and the dedication of Epsilon Sigma members, the Books and Blankets for Babies Project continues to be a successful and appreciated project.
“The blankets are adorable and a big hit with our families,” said Jenny Ortiz, Site Administrator at the Valley View Child Development Center in Ontario. “Each year, the parents greatly appreciate the donations and love having a new book to read to their children.”
Thank you to the local Epsilon Sigma chapter for these donations, which will make a true impact on Easterseals’ children and their families.
Disability in Pop Culture: Contestants with Disabilities Overcome Physical, Mental, and Endurance Barriers on CBS’ Survivor
Thursday, November 17, 2022, 2:59 PM
Take a look at how Survivor has made it their mission to create a more inclusive environment for con…
The popular and Emmy Award-winning reality competition series Survivor has dominated television for more than two decades, entertaining viewers and raising their adrenaline while watching 18 castaway contestants–with-and-without disabilities–attempt to outwit, outplay and outlast each other in isolated locations around the world. As the entertainment industry moves toward becoming more inclusive for people with disabilities, we’re excited to take a look at how Survivor has made it their mission to create a more inclusive environment for contestants with disabilities.
Over the course of 43 seasons, there have been 644 contestants on Survivor. So far, the franchise has cast 10 contestants with self-disclosed disabilities who have overcome physically and mentally taxing challenges.
Being a contestant with a disability on Survivor is not an easy feat. Their fellow tribe members’ knowledge of their disability may create uncertainty about their ability to contribute and add value to the challenges. This adds another layer of difficulty for the contestants with disabilities, as they must work even harder to prove their worth to the tribe.
The Survivor Wiki lists several contestants with disabilities, including Christy Smith, the first deaf contestant, Leif Mason, the first and only contestant with dwarfism, and Drea Wheeler, the first legally blind contestant. Their resolve and determination demonstrate that not even a remote and isolated area with few basic human necessities will deter individuals with the drive to compete and conquer.
A prime example is Christy Smith from season six of ‘Survivor: The Amazon.’ Christy was met with mixed reactions from her tribe when they found out she was deaf. Despite communication barriers, she made it to the final six! Before her elimination, she gained power as a swing vote; fearful of her power, the tribe turned against Christy and successfully voted her out. Similarly, season 41’s Ricard Foyé, the second hearing-impaired contestant in the franchise, won the most immunity challenges in his season and made it to the final five.
This year’s cast features Noelle Lambert, a 25-year-old from New Hampshire who competed for the U.S. Track & Field team at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo and set a new American record in the 100-meter dash. Noelle is the third amputee to compete in Survivor, following in the footsteps of season nine’s Chad Crittenden and Kelly Bruno from season 21.
Additionally, this season features contestant Ryan Medrano, who is a 25-year-old personal trainer and the first contestant with cerebral palsy.
Survivor has had multiple men and women with disabilities on the show, but former contestants have spoken out about a lack of diversity and inclusion, which led to CBS launching a series of initiatives aimed at creating more diversity on the show. These included a pledge that at least 50 percent of future casts will be Black, indigenous, and people of color, and host Jeff Probst modifying his classic catchphrase from, “come on in, guys!” to “come on in!”
With the implementation of these new diversity initiatives, it looks like Survivor will continue to include more castaways with disabilities to outwit, outlast, and outplay towards becoming the ‘Sole Survivor.’
Beginning in January 2023, the Bob Hope Veterans Support Program will transition its name to Veteran…
Since its inception in 2013, Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program has served more than 2,400 veterans and their families, with more than half of those attaining meaningful employment.
Beginning in January 2023, the Bob Hope Veterans Support Program will transition its name to Veterans Employment & Transition Services, or VETS. It has been a privilege and an honor to represent the legacy of Bob Hope and the financial commitment of the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation for the past 10 years.
Veterans and our community partners can expect the same great service from the same great team of staff, and as always, our mission is to assist post-9/11 veterans to attain meaningful employment.
We look forward to hearing even more veterans say, “The Easterseals program is the reason why I’m working where I am now.”
VETS provides employment services for Southern California Veterans.
About Our Veterans Services
VETS will continue to provide one-on-one employment services, as well as referrals to other resources, to meet the unique needs of military personnel and veterans transitioning out of the military into a civilian job or starting their own small business.
Built off of the success of Easterseals’ WorkFirst customized employment services model, the objective is to help veterans and their family members successfully return back into communities and pursue healthy, productive lives. This service will also continue to be provided to spouses/registered domestic partners of veterans.
Check out our stories of success featuring veterans who have found meaningful employment with the help of Easterseals.
Watch Now: Army Veteran Jonathan Transitions to Civilian Employment
Navy Veteran Shares How Easterseals Helped Him Find Purpose
Monday, October 24, 2022, 12:53 PM
Navy Veteran Anderson found a new career thanks to the Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program…
After serving in the military for 20 years, Navy Veteran Anderson learned countless transferable skills, but there’s one thing the military did not teach him: how to get a job as a civilian.
Anderson was a logistics specialist in the Navy.
When Anderson retired from the Navy in 2021, fellow Veterans warned him how difficult it would be to find a job, but he wasn’t too concerned, especially with his years of military experience as a logistics specialist on multiple deployments.
“Once I got out of the military, it was a shock,” laughed Anderson. “My biggest issue was how to translate my skills and what I gained in my military career to a civilian life. That’s where Easterseals came in.”
“They didn’t give me that one-on-one support,” said Anderson. “But at Easterseals, my amazing (ESSC) coach Cynthia Marinaccio really gave me that one-one-one I needed to translate my skills to civilian terms and sat down with me on many occasions to do practice interviews so I could learn how to sell myself as an employee. The Easterseals program is the reason why I’m working where I am now.”
Anderson served in the Navy for 20 years.
Thanks to the help from Easterseals SoCal, Anderson is now happily employed at the Veterans Administration in La Jolla, CA as a supervisor in Environmental Management Services.
“It was an absolute pleasure to assist Anderson in his transition,” said Cynthia Marinaccio, ESSC Employment Specialist. “He took the guidance I provided him and thrived to the best of his ability. I knew he would be an amazing employee no matter where his next opportunity would be.”
Anderson is grateful he was referred to Easterseals by his Veteran friends, and he has in-turn continued to tell other Veterans about the support he received at Easterseals.
“We think we’re ready once we retire from the military, but regardless of the skills we have, we’re not,” said Anderson. “I know for a fact, Easterseals is one place that can prepare Veterans to face this new reality.”
Anderson was the Veteran honoree during a CVS Pharmacy check presentation to Easterseals’ Bob Hope Veterans Support Program at a fall 2022 San Diego Padres game.
Severe Behavior Services Program Presented With $1 Million Secured From Assemblymember Steven S. Choi, Ph.D signing of AB 179
Friday, October 21, 2022, 8:04 PM
One-of-a-Kind program on West Coast offers help and hope to Families. Looks to double the size of th…
On Tuesday, Oct. 11 California Assemblymember Steven Choi, Ph.D. (68th District) visited the Irvine Therapy and Disability Service Center for a check presentation of $1 million for ESSC’s Severe Behavior Services. Assemblymember Choi had introduced Assembly Bill 179 that secured the funding. The presentation kicked off a $6-7 million fundraising effort with the goal of doubling the size of the program at a new Orange County facility.
L-R: Mark Whitley, president & CEO, Easterseals Southern California (ESSC); Dr. Joyce C. Tu, Ed.D., BCBA-D, VP, Clinical Transformation, Autism Services, ESSC; California Assemblymember, Dr. Steven S. Choi, Ph.D., 68th Assembly District; Dr. Paula Pompa-Craven, PsyD, Chief Clinical Officer, ESSC; and Carrie O’Malley, District Director, Office of Assemblyman Steven Choi.
L-R: Nancy Weintraub, Chief Development Officer, Easterseals Southern California (ESSC); Carrie O’Malley, District Director, Office of Assemblyman Steven Choi; Dr. Shaji Haq, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Clinical Director, Autism Services, ESSC; Mark Whitley, president & CEO, ESSC; California Assemblymember, Dr. Steven S. Choi, Ph.D., 68th Assembly District; Beverlyn Mendez, Chief Operating Officer, ESSC; Dr. Paula Pompa-Craven, PsyD, Chief Clinical Officer, ESSC; and Dr. Joyce C. Tu, Ed.D., BCBA-D, VP, Clinical Transformation, Autism Services, ESSC. , pose with million dollar check in front of Easterseals building