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How Our Community at Easterseals Gives Thanks

Read statements of gratitude from friends and employees of Easterseals. Do you have someone or something you're grateful for this year? Share in the comments section below!

Maurice Snell, to his parents, colleagues, and Easterseals experience:

Maurice Snell wearing a suit and tie

Maurice Snell

"During my 33 years of this life, I have experienced ups and downs.  In the early stages of my life, I was unable to develop socially, which was frustrating for me and my family.  My parents have seen potential in me, but it would be a matter of time for me to reach my potential.

When I first received services at Easterseals, I knew it would be difficult.  It was difficult for me to interact with my peers during the early stages of my life.  But with the help from my teachers and various resources, I had the urge to speak once again. 

In a nutshell, I would say that Easterseals has changed my way of thinking, encouraged me to develop socially and academically, and be an engaging presence to others.
Without the help of Easterseals, I wouldn’t be the individual who I am today. 

First and foremost, I would like to thank my parents for always believing in me throughout my life.  They were determined that I would succeed throughout life. 

This is where I am today, an individual who received services at Easterseals and now gives a testimony on how individuals can be successful in their lifetime.
I thank my wonderful colleagues of Easterseals (past and present) for allowing me the opportunity to shine.  I have learned a whole lot from them from childhood into adulthood and right now, I continue to give back to those who need inspiration. 

Anyone can make it, it’s a matter of believing in themselves.  Just reach for the stars and you’ll be successful!”

You can read more about Maurice's story here.

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Erin Hawley, to the community of Easterseals Thrive:

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Barbara Gaither, grateful for her son, Scott:

"It has been eight years since we started our amazing journey with Scottie as the Easterseals 2008 National Child Representative. Time really gets away from us, but we frequently talk about the trips that we took and the amazing opportunities we had to meet and speak to so many folks about what Easterseals and autism have meant in our lives. We occasionally still get a chance to speak at some Easterseals events, and it is always an honor.

The Gaither family outside with fall foliage in the backgroundThis month, as we prepare for another Thanksgiving Day together as a family, I am grateful for my busy family, our health and all the help, love, hope and opportunity that Easterseals has brought into our lives.

This time of year, I find myself reflecting on what I am most grateful for. I have so many things in my life that have truly blessed me. One of the most amazing blessings? Having an autistic son.

Now, I can’t say that I’ve always felt that way. Scottie is a teenager now and prefers being called Scott — he doesn’t mind “Scottie,” but he’s grown up! As the years passed since that initial diagnosis in 2002, I’ve grown more and more thankful for him and his diagnosis.

Many would think that I’m crazy — and maybe I am a bit, but he is such a tremendous joy to me and our entire family. He has taught me not to take the little things in life for granted, and by watching him grow and learn, I have learned so very much.

It’s simply amazing.

Sometimes, I wonder what life without him would be like, or even life without him being autistic, and I cannot imagine it. At this point I don’t even want to. I wouldn’t change a thing about him even if I could.

Being selected as the Easterseals 2008 National Child Representative not only gave a lot more people an opportunity to know and love our wonderful son Scott when he was still a little boy, but it gave us — as a family — a chance to give back. I currently serve as the chairperson of our local Easterseals board of directors — we give back to Easterseals as an organization because they have given us more than words could ever express.

Staying involved with Easterseals also gives us a chance to offer hope to other families facing the darkness of autism. I hope that somehow, by seeing and hearing our story, there will again be light.

So, as we gather to celebrate this Thanksgiving, I will give thanks for Scott and his sisters, Sarah and Carly, as well as my husband Shannon and all of our extended family — including our wonderful Easterseals family."

Read more about Scott's story here

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Kim Minerly, to her staff at Camp Merry Heart and her family:

Kim Minerly, Director of Camp Merry Heart at Easterseals New Jersey

"There is something to be said about ordinary moments that cause us to take pause and give thanks…but what about those extraordinary moments?  I am honored to have been asked to share my own personal celebrations of thankfulness for this season; everyday things in my life, things that I take for granted, but things that I am most grateful for. 

I am privileged to be a part of something extraordinary.  Being an Easterseals New Jersey Camp Director, at Camp Merry Heart, has been one of the most gratifying and rewarding experiences I have ever had.  I appreciate all of the opportunities that I have been offered and for every occasion where I was fortunate to be a part of, or witness the creating of, life’s moments for the individual campers we serve. 

Those life’s moments would not be possible without our staff.  We are blessed to work with so many wonderful individuals from all over the world.  I feel that our staff was brought together on purpose, not by chance and are individuals who truly have a heart for those with special needs.  Our staff embrace our campers.  They nurture independence, cultivate relationships and build community; for that I am grateful.

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention my family.  I am so very thankful and blessed for my husband and children who stand by me no matter what.  They understand my position and the sacrifice we make, on a daily basis, in order to support caregivers, loved ones and campers all year round.   My husband and children are extraordinary and I am so blessed to have their love and support. 

Writing this short essay has just been a very small gesture in appreciation toward each person mentioned.  I love and appreciate them for supporting me in my work but most of all for supporting the campers that we serve.  Thank you."

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Donna Smith, to her daughter, life partner, and Easterseals team:

Donna Smith with her mom and daughter

Donna Smith with her daughter (left) and mom (right).

"There are so many people for whom I am thankful that I can’t possibly account for them all. This is just a short list of those whose presence in my life is a constant source of happiness, support and love.

First and foremost, I want to thank my mother, Arlene Diamond, for being just the type of parent I needed! When she learned that I would be blind by the time I was three years old, she made it her business to learn everything she could about raising me to be as independent as possible. I would not have the “can do” attitude and positive outlook on life that I have without her influence both in the early years and to this day whenever I visit with her.

My daughter, Erin Lewis, has grown from a fabulous child to an even more fabulous young adult and I have the privilege to call her friend as well as daughter. From the time when she was about two years old and discovered that to “show” me something she needed to put it in my hand, she has accepted my blindness as a natural part of our lives and made little needed adaptations such as describing pictures she posts to Facebook, creating tactile art, and serving as driver and reader on many occasions, just to name a few. Erin now works as an instructor at the Addie McBride Rehabilitation Center for the Blind in Jackson, Mississippi, teaching people to use assistive technology, and I know that the number of people who are thankful for her grows every year.

Donna Smith with her life partner, Tom.

Donna and Tom

I also very much appreciate Tom Welch, my life partner since 2004. He is another person who loves me for all that I am rather than defining me using preconceived notions of what I can’t do. From the very start, he would take vacation time from his job to be available to assist me with some of the larger training events we host at Easterseals Project Action, and now that he has retired, he volunteers to assist me with every such event, large and small. I can’t even begin to list all the things that he does for me on a daily basis, and when I thank him for doing them, he points out all the things that I do for him and says that it is the key to any good relationship.

In 2002 I was hired to work for Easterseals Project Action in the Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. It was the first step on what I anticipate to be the closing journey of my professional career as I took my experience as a trainer to a national scope project. I could not have picked a better place to work than with my awesome OPA colleagues!

In previous jobs, I was used to advocating for myself to get the supports I need such as specific software or material in electronic or braille formats, but soon I learned that it was not necessary for me to even open my mouth about such things! My OPA colleagues always ask the “is this accessible” question often before I even think about it!

Donna Smith using her BrailleNote

Donna using her BrailleNote at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

One of my most useful pieces of equipment, the BrailleNote, was suggested to me by Randy Rutta when he saw other people using them at meetings. He asked me what it was, and when I explained that it is a laptop with a braille display instead of a screen, he asked if I could use something like that, and then worked with our IT department to get one ordered.” The BrailleNote gives me access to any materials provided in electronic format and is the key to giving me access to PowerPoint slides and talking points when I present.

Easterseals has also provided me the opportunity and encouragement to grow in my profession and to take our project to new levels. I think the best thing I can say about working for Easterseals is that my disability simply isn’t a factor. I am assessed, valued and given responsibility based on my performance, and I am mostly appreciated for my often quirky sense of humor. I know firsthand the discrimination people with disabilities face in the job market including the opportunity for advancement once employment is found, and I am so fortunate to not have to cope with this here at Easterseals.

I offer my heart-felt thanks to Easterseals Office of Public Affairs where I work every day, Easterseals HQ and to all of the affiliates around the country for all that you do every day to promote equality and independence for people with disabilities and their families. You are an awesome group of folks!"

Read more about Donna Smith here

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Sean Edwards, grateful for goalball:

Erik Rodriguez of the Indy Pendants throwing the ball down the middle of the court.

"I never really found sports interesting as a kid. I could watch football here and there if family was watching it. My dad even got me into watching hockey when I was 15 or so. But I couldn’t play those sports. Ha, me try to see a small, icy rubber disk that can be launched around a rink at more than 90 miles an hour? Good luck.

The script sort of flipped my junior year of high school. A resource teacher that year went out of his way to show me this unique sport made for people with a vision disability and assured me I’d be able to participate. Players all wear blindfolds, and the ball has bells inside to hear where it’s coming from. My resource teacher went on and on, and when he finally finished explaining I had only one question: what’s this game called?


Created after World War II as a rehabilitation method for veterans who had lost their sight in combat, Goalball is a 3-on-3 team sport that combines an offense like bowling with a defense of soccer or hockey. Teams of blindfolded players take turns rolling a hard-rubber bell-filled ball down the court at their opponents. When defending, a team will have to listen for where the ball is coming from and dive out to block the ball with their body, preventing it from entering their goal. The team with the most goals at the end of the 24-minute game wins.

We started a Goalball club at my high school and I began exploring various strategies. I learned that playing proper defense limited chances of taking a hit to the head. It didn’t take long for me to discover I did in fact have a competitive fire buried inside me.

And now I’d found a way to release it.

Since graduating from high school I’ve been attending Purdue University, and during my sophomore year at college it occurred to me that hey, we managed to create a Goalball club at Carmel High School. Let’s do it at Purdue, too.

On April 23rd, 2016, the newly-founded Purdue Goalball organization hosted its First Annual Regional Goalball Tournament. Six teams from various cities, including Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, and even Cincinnati, traveled to compete in West Lafayette. I witnessed first-hand what that tournament meant to the athletes who participated. They weren’t simply enjoying a chance to get physical activity — they were grateful for the opportunity to compete.

It was on that day last April that I knew. This was it, this was what I was looking for all along. I switched my major to Sociology with a minor in Disability Studies. My goal is to someday work towards raising awareness of adaptive sports and make more options and opportunities available for athletes with disabilities to participate in them. With that spirit in mind, we’re planning to host our second Goalball tournament at Purdue in April 2017.

Sometimes in life, you don’t really know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. And other times, you don’t really know what you could have until it falls right into your lap. I’m honestly grateful to have learned about Goalball. Not only do I appreciate it for giving me the chance to compete, but it has opened up my mind to who I want to be."

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Bridget Hayman, to her husband, family, and Easterseals team:

Bridget and George at their wedding

Bridget and George

"I’m thankful for my husband, George, whose kindness brings out the best in everyone around him, including me. Geo, you’re always there to push me up hill (figuratively and literally), and you make me feel like I can take on anything.

I’m grateful to my family because they have always believed in me and have gotten on-board for anything I want to do. Mom, Dad, and Gram, you’ve taught me what love and strength are all about.

I’m thankful for Easterseals, an organization that has been part of my life for nearly as long as I can remember.

Bridget and the Easterseals team

Going to Easterseals camp in Colorado as a kid broadened my world in more ways than I could imagine at the time – giving me my first taste of independence, introducing me to others with disabilities, and showing me how I could climb the mountains of life.  I went to camp for the first time when I was nine years old, and eventually I became a volunteer, and then I joined the summer staff as a counselor.  Over the years, camp remained close to my heart – so much so that we celebrated our wedding there!

Now, I’m especially grateful to be working with Easterseals once again and to make my own contribution to the cause that has had a big impact on me. It’s a pleasure to work with people who dedicate each day to helping all people with disabilities uncover their best selves. The need for Easterseals services has never been greater."

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Amy Liss, living with an attitude of gratitude:

Amy with her sister, Kelly

Amy with her sister, Kelly.

"I've been a client at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley for 33 years.  Ten years ago, I became an employee at the place that has done so much for me.  At that time, Vice President of Development, Susan Mchabcheb, saw value in me and asked me to apply for a position in the Development Office.  I had been volunteering at Easterseals and didn't want to give up that role but Susan believed in me and allowed me to believe in myself.  She saw my people skills and my ability to mentor families and share our mission.  I still work part time and volunteer as many hours as possible - it's the best of both worlds!  My first boss,Susan Mchabcheb, now working at Easterseals in North Carolina, has a big part of my heart.   With an attitude of gratitude,  Amy Liss"

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