Introducing Charlie Owens — a child with autism who attends Easterseals Midwest, and star of an upcoming episode of the children's show Mack & Moxy!
Both Charlie and his twin, Max, were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 2. Together, his parents and his team at Easterseals work hand in hand to ensure Charlie is afforded every opportunity to achieve his goals.
Recently, he was able to take a step towards his dream of becoming a film director by starring in Easterseals' episode of Mack & Moxy, a groundbreaking television series that introduces children to important causes.
Watch the video below to meet Charlie and his family. Also be sure to keep up with us for all things Mack & Moxy — including the reveal of our celebrity guest!
Read our blog about Charlie's time on the set of Mack & Moxy
Find out how we're helping school aged children with autism, just like Charlie!
Tuesday, November 21, 2023, 1:24 PM
By Grant Boyer Countless people have joined the armed forces and taken part in defending the nation …
By Grant Boyer
Countless people have joined the armed forces and taken part in defending the nation and its ideals on land, in the air, and on sea. They have taken part in attacks, flown dangerous missions, and patrolled waters ̶ however, not as many have had music as their primary mission.
Doug Finke, a trombonist of 23, was drafted in 1965 and remained in service until 1967. He knew from the beginning that he wanted to play music while in the service, and chose to pursue the Marine Corps’ music program. When he finally had the chance to try out following boot camp, he was promptly given a trombone to use and music to play. At the end of the difficult audition, they said, “okay, you’re in.”
“What does that mean?” Doug asked, not yet understanding the scope and sudden nature of what they said.
“You’ve been accepted into the Marine Corps band program, and you’ll be given an assignment,” they replied.
“So, that was cool. It was stressful, but it was cool,” Doug said of his experience.
He joined the 3rd Marine Airwing Band, stationed at El Toro, California. Every base had its own band, and California alone had five or six bands. While in the field band, Doug started writing arrangements for it, mostly show tunes in a military style that used military band instrumentation. His arrangements included “Strike up the Band” and other Gershwin tunes, or simply music that everybody at the time would know.
“A warrant officer was in charge of the band, and gunnery sergeants or master sergeants would do the field directing. I had discussions with them about playing better music, and they said it was more about the precision of marching. I said, ‘I don’t think so. I think that when people hear really good music, they don’t know why but they like it better.’ So they let me write, we did these shows. And to my gratification, the directors of Army, Navy, and Air Force bands came to our director and said, ‘where did you get those arrangements?’” Doug explained.
It should be noted that he had to hand-write all of his music, which required very good handwriting. Doug took pride in his ability to write clear and accurate music, one of the elements of his arrangements’ success.
His handwriting was the reason he was eventually invited to join “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band as the director’s copyist. Within the last three years, Doug found out that he would have been working with Sammy Nestico, a very famous composer and arranger who was directing the “President’s Own” Marine Band at the time. Nestico had previously directed and arranged for the United States Air Force Band, in which he created the famous Airmen of Note jazz ensemble. Nestico is also well known for writing arrangements for the Count Basie Orchestra and is also a trombonist.
Doug ended up turning down the opportunity, “which is another story,” he says. At the time he was invited, he was married and had a child and wanted to be present for his family rather than constantly traveling with the band. On occasion, he’s pondered how his life would have been different but doesn’t regret the choice he made.
Life in general in the Marine Corps was busy and direct, with no moment of the day being wasted.
“At 7 or 7:30 in the morning, we would march in uniform from the barracks to the main flagpole on the base to raise the colors. We would play while marching down the streets, and when we arrived at headquarters, we would play a bugle call to attention and “The Star-Spangled Banner”; and then we would march back, playing marches again.
The rest of the day was made up of two different things — we would either rehearse as a concert or jazz band, or we would go out into the public to play in a parade or play a concert. In ’66 and ’67, we were off base playing in something nearly every day of the year. One year, we went 178 days without any time off. All of that was part of a goodwill campaign to the public, to give them a good feeling about being in the Vietnam war, that it was OK. The idea was to make them feel good about ‘doing what we had to do’,” Doug explained.
Sometimes playing took the band to different parts of the country, such as Salt Lake City to play in a roughly five-mile-long parade, or an annual military-centric show in Seattle. Doug’s arrangements were also played at the Seattle show, which helped them garner attention. The band’s mode of air transport was always a cargo C-130 with no seats of any kind (“typical Marine Corps”, says Doug), requiring the band members to simply find a spot on the floor and get into a good conversation to pass the time.
Back to the Vietnam War, Doug got orders to go to Vietnam twice. Bands went to Vietnam too and, of course, band members would fight as well if necessary. This was obviously worrisome to him given that he had a daughter by this point, but his commanding officer said, “don’t worry about it, I’m getting your orders changed.”
“I was principal trombone player for those two years [with the band] and he didn’t want to lose me, so I’m grateful for that.”
When asked what the proudest moment he had in the band was, Doug couldn’t name just one thing, but remembered the excellence of the band’s performance, time and again. “The trombone section was amazing — we were proud, we were loud, and we were in lock step. The formation was always perfect or near perfect. That sort of performance made me proud.”
His time in the Marines and the band taught him discipline in life, helping him to live on a schedule, “and to always do the best job you can. Make commitments, keep commitments, keep your shoes shined, and a crease in your pants.”
Grant received his creative writing degree from the University of Indianapolis in 2021, where he also played the trombone in several bands while attending. Grant has since become increasingly interested in writing the personal stories of friends and family. Grant’s grandfather Doug was a mentor and positive influence through his school years as a trombonist. They have played together in a long list of band performances, sharing the love for the trombone.
Tuesday, November 14, 2023, 12:17 PM
Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Jon Horowitch, President & CEO of Easterseals DC MD VA, for …
Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Jon Horowitch, President & CEO of Easterseals DC MD VA, for providing this information.
For some veterans – though certainly not all – the transition to civilian life can present challenges. For instance, unemployment (or underemployment) can lead to anxiety – a situation experienced by veterans and civilians alike. In the words of Deborah Mullen, military family advocate and the spouse of Adm. Michael Mullen (Ret.), 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “veterans want what every other American wants: a good job, one for their spouse or partner, a good education for their children, and a place to call home.” Mullen also serves as an Honorary Board member of Easterseals DC MD VA.
For veterans who need assistance readjusting, the challenges can be simple or complex. The first step toward resolution should be understanding the root causes of the situation and a coordinated, holistic approach to support can make that discovery process more effective. For instance, a recently transitioned service member may need assistance securing his first civilian job, while he is also managing unseen injuries. Helping that veteran find employment without also helping him heal psychologically lowers his chance of beginning a successful, long-term civilian career. Easterseals DC MD VA, which offers extensive programming for veterans and military families, has a Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. This initiative works with veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness and prepares them for long-term employment while also addressing complex transitional needs. They help clients enroll in local support services to address legal, housing, health, and other concerns, and stay with their clients every step of the way to ensure a successful transition.
Members of the military are part of a community, depending upon one another to achieve their collective mission. When leaving service, the loss of community can be one of the biggest adjustments that the veteran must make, so finding support from a new community can be immensely helpful. Easterseals recognizes the value of those connections and can help introduce military families to others who share their experiences. Easterseals’ Respite Programs, for example, help ease the challenges of being or caring for a wounded warrior, veteran, or active-duty military while also looking after children and promote connections with other caregivers. As a result, military families enjoy the emotional and social support that comes from those relationships.
Additionally, a veteran’s mental health closely intertwines with their ability to manage civilian employment. Successfully coping with the unseen effects of service brings stability to a person’s outlook and relationships, making it possible to begin a rewarding, long-term career. The economic benefits of that stability not only bring pride and the ability to provide for one’s family, but also make it possible to own a home.
Kendra Davenport, President and CEO of Easterseals, adds: “So much of a veteran’s identity is tied throughout their active-duty service to the military branch in which they serve. While on active duty, they are part of something important and part of a very tightly-knit work community that not only supports them but supports their families as well. When they separate from the military, they leave that community and they leave behind the support and solidarity and shared values, work ethic and purpose. Finding new employment can be a challenge and it is compounded by the fact that a job checks just one of the many boxes they must refill. It often fails to provide the support and strong sense of belonging veterans recognize and often feel while they are on active duty. The void can create mental stress and anxiety that can lead to depression. For all these reasons and more, Easterseals places tremendous importance on not only helping veterans secure meaningful jobs but also on their mental health.”
Monday, November 6, 2023, 3:13 PM
By Dom Evans I have a friend who is in her 40s, who just got their first permanent teaching job with…
By Dom Evans
I have a friend who is in her 40s, who just got their first permanent teaching job within the last year.
It’s great they are finally teaching in an elementary school like they always wanted. They have had their master’s degree in education for around a decade, but they were hoping to find a permanent job at one of the schools in the area where they live.
My friend is a long-term power wheelchair user. Now, working as an elementary school teacher, I have to wonder what role their visible disability has played in all of this.
My friend got hired amid record lows for employment.
There is a dire need for teachers and, until they were at their most dire, they still wouldn’t consider a highly trained, physically disabled, wheelchair-using teacher.
Sure, my friend was able to work as a substitute teacher and also held down other jobs, but they never stopped holding out for a teaching position — a job I personally believe was withheld from them because of their visible disability.
Until the 1970s, many states around the country had what were known as the “ugly laws,” which made it illegal for people with visible disabilities to appear in public.
You may have heard about disabled people being kept in family back rooms. Up until recently, and even today in some families, visibly-disabled people (those of us particularly with disabilities that seem unsightly to those who are not disabled) are the family’s shame/secret. Sometimes these individuals were/are literally hidden away to protect the family’s “image.”
During the disability rights movement of the 1960s, it was these highly visible, often wheelchair-using individuals who started demanding we be allowed to have access to not only exist in public, but to schooling, employment, education, love and relationships, housing, and so much more.
Sadly, society has not gotten to a place where the vast majority of people are comfortable with visible disabilities. Part of this comes from a fear of becoming disabled themselves.
It’s a cyclical thing that feeds itself. Nondisabled people are afraid of becoming disabled, so media is created that depicts this fear. The media that depicts this fear feeds the misconception further because that’s what people see and think this is what being disabled is like.
This is part of why representation of disability matters and is so important. We must have accurate information to prevent more mistreatment. We can see the connection between causation based on lack of proper representation and continued mistreatment and exclusion of wheelchair-using disabled folks.
We are still at a place where seeing disability makes nondisabled people uncomfortable.
It is still difficult for many disabled people to leave their homes without getting inundated with comments about their appearance, questions about the validity of them leaving their house, and/or having access to the outside world, and even open proselytizing.
For some visibly disabled people, this is an experience they have every time they leave the house. They can’t go anywhere without being gawked at, laughed at, talked about, pointed at, or called names.
This same principle of mistreatment, exclusion, and othering extends throughout every aspect of the disabled person’s life, including access to employment. It creates a system where wheelchair-using disabled people are not even considered for jobs they are often overqualified to have.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to prove that discrimination is occurring at all. Employers don’t have to disclose why they won’t hire someone. It is essentially the employer’s word against the potential employee, and if there’s no clear verbiage that distinguishes the reason was because of a disability, the disabled person has no recourse.
Instead, we know it’s occurring because physically-disabled wheelchair users continue to have these experiences over and over in nearly every field. We can look at the employment rate of disabled people and see that something is happening to keep disabled folks from getting jobs.
It’s been known for years that only about 20% of disabled people are employed compared to about 65% of nondisabled people. The rate of unemployment for disabled people versus nondisabled people is also nearly double.
Sure, there are other factors that contribute.
If you depend on things like Social Security Disability, Medicaid, or other programs, it may actually be disadvantageous to get a job. These programs are means-based, and if you make too much money, you can lose these often life-saving and essential services. This often means that disabled people who depend on them for survival have no choice but to live in poverty.
Job prospects are already hard, but disincentivizing disabled people from making money greatly reduces the kind of jobs disabled people can have anyway. So when a disabled person is willing and/or able to take the risk of having a job that can actually pay them money, to have that job denied because the individual is disabled is highly distressing and not fair.
Back to my friend though. They clearly could’ve had a teaching job long before they got one. They are in their early 40s like I am and have been searching for a job since they were in their 20s.
Sure, they might’ve limited their prospects by wanting a job that wasn’t too far from home, but teaching jobs have been in high demand for a while, and it really feels like the only reason they got their job is because the school was desperate.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m incredibly happy for my friend. They’ve been dreaming of a job like this for ages. But I can’t help but feel like it’s a bit exploitive to hire disabled people when nondisabled people refuse to work for you because of things like lack of pay, lack of protection, and possible harm as a result of gun violence — something teachers must consider more and more these days.
This is not my only friend in this situation either. I know multiple disabled people that have high-level degrees in things like science, education, politics, the arts, and medicine, and nearly all of them that are power wheelchair users have struggled to find any type of employment despite their level of education.
Does my friend deserve the job? They deserved the job once they were qualified. So why did it take all of the non-disabled teachers quitting for them to be seen as valuable enough to hire in the first place? That’s the question we must be asking when it comes to disability and employability.
Disabled people are often natural problem solvers. We often have unique skills that nondisabled people don’t have. We often have talents and abilities that people don’t even consider because they dismiss us because of our disabilities. Getting the chance to show everything we have to offer remains elusive.
Employers need to consider disabled people as viable contributors to their businesses. As physically disabled wheelchair users, many of us are living longer. Many of us are going to school and want to work. We deserve the chance to try.
Dom Evans is the founder of FilmDis, a media monitoring organization that studies and reports on disability representation in the media. He is a Hollywood consultant, television aficionado, and future showrunner. His knowledge and interest on disability extends through media, entertainment, healthcare, gaming and nerdy topics, marriage equality, sex and sexuality, parenting, education, and more.
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