Yes, it is!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

An Egg Hunt For Special People

I did it.  I actually succeeded in organizing a community event.  I'm not a leader type of person and I often doubt myself.  Today was a success for the first annual Easter egg hunt for those with special needs.  This event was for anybody of any age who is otherwise unable (or uncomfortable) to participate in a typical egg hunt due to physical or developmental limitations. 

As most of my friends and readers know, my daughter has a mild case of cerebral palsy.  She is my inspiration for why I organized today's event.  Even though Jackie has a mild case of CP, there are some things that she still struggles with and events such as egg hunts is an example.  Usually, Jackie would come away with no eggs or maybe 1 or 2 eggs.  You can read HERE about how I came up with the idea for this special event.

When I first started to plan this event, I figured that I would probably have to finance most, if not all, of it.  The first person I asked was one of Tim's cousins who works for a very large company that also produces snack items.  I talked to him last summer about possibly obtaining coupons to purchase snacks at a discount.  Unfortunately, even after he called and talked to me again about this recently, nothing came to fruition.  However, I didn't let that get me down.  I was able to obtain the use of the church grounds (hoping the weather would be good).  Then a couple of the church staff members asked me to make a list of things that I would like to have donated and they would put it in the church bulletin.  I already felt blessed by that.  I have to admit that I started to get discouraged at first and believe that others really did not care about this cause because the donations were few. At first.  I received lots of plastic eggs and a few small baskets.  I still was not about to let that get me down because I was determined to make this event a success. So, I went shopping.  I filled a few hundred plastic eggs with candy.  I bought drinks, plates, napkins, forks.  I also bought stuff to fill baskets that I was putting together for prizes.

Speaking of baskets, I recently went to a Zumbathon at which there were also themed baskets being raffled off.  I bought some tickets and put mine in the baskets that I thought would be good giveaways for my Easter egg hunt.  At the end of the Zumbathon, I listened intently for my mine but it was never called.  I was just slightly disappointed but I got over very quickly knowing that the money went to a very good cause.  Well, the next day, I got a call from one of Jackie's teachers saying that she had my basket that I won.  I'm pretty sure my name was never called but I just saw it as a blessing to use for my event.

Last week, a friend from Florida sent a gift card for me to use toward the event.  It went to good use.  Thank you Fran! I bought the balloons, face paint, and a tray of Chick Fil A nuggets from Chick Fil A.  Which reminds me of another blessing.  Over a month ago, one of the area Chick Fil As posed a question on the Facebook page asking what one would do with 50 free CFA sandwiches.  I answered that I would use them for my Special Needs Easter egg hunt.  I won.  Thank you Chick Fil A at Greenmount Commons!

Another friend who bakes cakes and cupcakes offered to make cupcakes.  What a huge blessing.  Not only did she make over 50 cupcakes but she also made a beautiful layered cake.  Thank you Therese!
A few of my Zumba friends also contributed with donations.  Thank you Aida for all of your donations and your generous gifts to my children.  And thank you Crystal and Vickie for your donations.

During the last week, the donations really started to pour in.  Candy, stuffed animals, baskets for me to fill, and small trinket/toys.  My thanks to all of those who donated all those items.  Earlier this week, another special needs mom asked me what else I needed.  She provided snack packs and 2 of the 4 gift cards that I was planning to give as prizes.  Thank you Holly.  And thank you to the Sunday School class that collected $50 to purchase some of the remaining items that I still needed to buy; the bottle water, snacks, and the chocolate bunnies that I used for some of the baskets that I put together.  Thank you to the ladies who made those adorable bears.  Every child went home with one today.  Thank you to Mitchell and Madeline for manning the balloon, face paint, and activity table.

Last night was spent shopping for all the remaining items.  The weather this afternoon ended up being just perfect enough to keep the event outside.  I was so thankful considering the "winter" storm watch (or warning?) that we're under.  I know, it's already spring.  And this is the midwest.  I still find it unbelievable that we're under a "winter" storm warning.

As I started to set up for the event this afternoon, the volunteers started to come out from every angle.  We got things set up fairly quickly.  Soon after, the cars and vans started to flow into the parking lot.  I initially felt overwhelmed because I was afraid that I might not have enough food, drinks, or even prizes for everyone.  My goal was to make sure that every special needs person there went home with a prize.  It ended up that I didn't need to fear.  We had plenty.  The kids and adults alike seemed to really enjoy the juggler.  He was hilarious.  Thanks to the good weather, he was even able to juggle with fire and with knives.  I loved seeing the joy on everyone's faces.

Pretty soon, the egg hunt was underway.  Before it started, though, I encouraged everyone to help each other and to have fun gathering the eggs.  It brought such joy to me to see everyone being so respectful and helpful.  There was no trampling going on and that made me so happy.  I loved seeing every special person, no matter their age, enjoying picking up the eggs.  Once the egg hunt was over, those who picked up the gold, silver, bronze, and metallic blue eggs won the gift cards.  Then it was time to pick the names out of the basket for the winners of the baskets.  Then the remaining names in the basket got to choose another smaller prize.  Everyone went home with a prize!  And a bear.  And hopefully, good memories. So many people came up to me to thank me for organizing this event.  I felt so overwhelmed by all the encouragement and support by not only the parents of these special people but by my helpers, too.  Just a few weeks ago, I honestly did not think very many people would care about this cause.  And I was worried about failing.

I also had a couple of parents tell me how relaxed their special person was today.  These are children who do not tolerate being in a typical setting.  I really gave me joy to see these special children (and their parents) just be themselves and relax without fear of having others be unkind to them just because they are differently abled.  It still brings tears to my eyes just remembering the joy and the respect that everyone showed.
A couple of parents came over to hand me some money and insisted that I take it.  I did so reluctantly.  It ended up being around $15.  My plan is to start a non-profit with it.  I would like to use the non-profit for events such as today's and for fundraisers for our special needs community.  Taking care of children takes a huge financial toll on so many of us parents and it would be so nice for some of those parents to be able to receive beneficial equipment or services that they may not be able to afford for their child.

Before the event ended, we closed out with ice-cream cones (waffle cones) and cupcakes.  I feel so blessed that this event was truly a success and I am already excited about planning for next year.  I already know I won't have to worry about providing cups, plates, napkins, and utensils next year.  I was told today that this will be provided in the future by the church.  A big thanks goes out to Larry B. and Renee for helping me get some of the important things coordinated.

I know there are a lot more people that I need to thank but I just can't remember everyone right now. But please know, that I am so very appreciative to everyone who helped me to make this event a success.  I have a difficult time asking for help but this has been a great learning experience for me.  I feel blessed.

Next year's event is going to be so much better.  I have so many ideas swirling around my head already.  I'm already planning to include beepers inside some of the eggs next year.  Those will be used for the visually impaired.  For those who are wheel-chair bound or use a walker, we will have poles that will help them to pick up the eggs.  Just tonight, I got another great idea from another special needs mom blog.  Some may think it's crazy but I think it's an awesome idea.  Next year, we might include siblings but... they will have to wear black-out glasses to find their eggs so they can get an idea of what it's like for those who struggle with such events like egg hunts.  

One more thing.  I was so happy for my girl today.  Instead of coming away with just a couple or no eggs, she came away with a full basket.  Jackie had the biggest smile on her face.  I love her.

Okay, now on to my next venture which I already started tonight.  And that is a private Facebook group for caregivers of special people in the metro-east area.  Thankfully, I am not doing this venture by myself.  I immediately assigned a couple of other special needs moms to be co-administrators.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Jackie's Own Personal Decision

Do you know what AWANA is?  Do you know even know what it stands for?  I know what it is but I don't know what it stands for.  For the past 3 years, I've been taking her to this  kids' Bible club called AWANA.  She really enjoys it.  And I know she can probably tell you what the AWANA stands for. I admittedly have not been very involved in it but it makes me happy that Jackie enjoys it so much.  She has been learning Bible verses. They have AWANA olympics in which she participated last year.  They also have occasional theme nights such as Derby races, movie nights, costume character nights, pizza nights, etc.  The kids have a lot of fun and l like I said, Jackie absolutely loves it and has been learning a lot about God.  I really don't feel that the teachers/helpers pressure the kids to learn or make a religious commitment.  That is one thing I like about AWANA.

Recently, Tim started taking Jackie to Sunday School (I meet them at church for the sermon) on Sunday mornings and she loves that, too.  In just the past couple of weeks, she has also been following along and filling in the sermon notes during the preaching.  This has all been done on her own, no prodding from me.  Jackie is growing up so quickly.  It seems like yesterday that she was just a preschooler.  And now, she is reading, writing, taking her own notes. 

I am not a religious person (I have a wee faith) but I have always felt that it was important to provide my children at least a basic foundation of faith and religion.  As they get older, they will choose what path they want to take as far as religion is concerned.  It is important to me to let my children make their own religious decisions as I did not have the most pleasant church experiences during my own childhood and as an adult.  Some terrible things happened to me during my childhood that too many church people chose to ignore.  Because of that, I am not ignorant of the many terrible things that can and do happen in churches.  I am going to do my best to monitor my children's safety, even in church, and I will be listening to them for any indication that something bad is happening.  Unfortunately, I know all too well what can happen.  Thankfully, my kids have a mom who won't ignore their cries for help.  Right now, however, I feel that my children are in a safe place. 

Recently, Jackie has been asking a lot of questions about God, Jesus, religion.  I am the last person qualified to answer her questions, especially since I still struggle so much with my own faith.  Jackie wanted a Bible for Christmas so I bought her a youth study Bible.  She really likes it and reads it several times during the week.  It helps that this particular Bible has activities in it to make it more interesting.  I recently let Jackie talk to some people at church (with me present, of course) and ask questions.

Last night after AWANA, Jackie made a commitment to be a christian.  (I wasn't with her as I was in choir practice). I'm very supportive of her and proud that she is making such a decision of her own free will.  She has also been wanting to be baptized.  Like really bad. A few of her friends have been baptized recently so I'm pretty sure that has a lot to do with Jackie's desire to be baptized, too.  As young as Jackie is, I am fine with that if she truly wants to be baptized for the right reasons.
I love that my precious daughter is showing some maturity with her questions and wanting to make such a big decision.  I don't want to ever make her feel that she is not a good enough christian.  I want to try to support her in her walk down this path as much as I am able.  Who knows, maybe she will teach me something.   I really hope that Jackie can grow to have a much stronger faith than I've ever had or ever will have. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

So Blessed!

I feel so blessed and I hope I continue to feel that way.  Even with the stress of the sequester resulting in Tim having his income substantially decreased, I have felt blessed during these past few days.  That's not to say that I'm not angry about what's happening in our government that is causing so many federal/government employees to be furloughed.  I can get on my soapbox about that but I'm going to choose to write about being blessed instead. Thankfully, Tim still has a job for now.

As some of my friends know, I am putting together an Easter egg hunt for people (adults and children) in my surrounding community who have special needs, whether it be mobility issues, visual/hearing impairments, or developmental delays.  I was inspired last year by my beautiful daughter to do this.  You can read about that HERE.  I've never done anything like this before so it will probably start out small this year, which is fine.  I've already gotten good feedback on it and have had several people offer to volunteer to help out on that day.  The church where this is going to be held has been gracious to offer space.  The church also made over 200 copies of the flyers which saved me a good amount of money already.  On top of that, one of the ladies from the women's ministry department has donated boxes of candy, small toys, etc.  I am so excited.  One of the parents has been in contact with me and has offered to help me contact retailers about donating items.  Chick Fil A is going to provide 50 of their famous sandwiches.  And I will also be receiving 100 coupons from another Chick Fil A.  The church has placed an announcement in the church bulletin and in their monthly newsletter to help me spread the word about this event and to help me gather donations of whatever people would like to donate.  I'm hoping that my anticipated budget will already be slashed by nearly half with what I have already received or been offered. Whether or not there is a good turnout for this event, I am already excited about doing it again next year because it will be even better.  I have more ideas, thanks to a friend who provided a link to a blog that describes a special needs egg hunt in another state.  This year's event will be a learning experience, for sure.

I've shared about this previously, but I continue to be blessed with the opportunity to tutor a young man who has autism.  I really hope I can help make a difference in his life by reaching out to him and tutoring him.  I know he really appreciates that I am taking the time to help him. 

Going back to this sequester issue, I have to say that I am very thankful that Tim and I have been very wise with our finances well before we had our children.  I feel blessed that despite the lack of example I had during my childhood, I have mostly been responsible with finances.  Like just about most other people, I have made some foolish choices in regard to spending but thankfully, that has not been a chronic issue for me.  When our oldest child was born, it was decided that I would not return to full-time employment and that I would stay home full-time with Jackie.  Though we are far from rich, thankfully we were able to afford to cut back to 1 salary.  I was planning to finish my Master's degree and enter the workforce within the next couple of years while Jackie was a toddler.  That is, until we received the biggest surprise of our lives... I was pregnant.  With Ben.  Without regret, our plans were changed again.  I am thankful that we were financially able to continue to support our family on a single income.  However, it was not easy.  Jackie's many therapy and specialty appointments already put a good sized dent in our income.  Then at 18 months, it was determined that Ben needed speech therapy along with occupational therapy.  Now I had 2 children with special needs and our monthly medical expenses just grew a little bit.  I feel blessed to have insurance coverage and that it has covered most of my childrens' needs.  The copayments certainly add up, though. (As well as the gas bill to drive to said appointments).  Then there are the activities that have been recommended by therapists that, of course, are not covered by any type of insurance.  Gymnastics for Jackie and Ben.  Piano lessons for Jackie.  Other activities have been recommended but we have neither the time or finances to do everything.  None of those extra activities are cheap, either.  When I sign my kids up for certain activities, it isn't just because it's for fun (that's part of it) but I choose activities that will benefit my children physically.  I feel blessed that we were able to provide this for our children, however, that may change with this negative change in Tim's income.  Thankfully, Jackie has decided to quit gymnastics (girls were being mean) for the time being and is now taking karate for free!  That was another blessing that we received this past week.  There is a martial arts instructor who teaches the classes at church.  For free!  Jackie just started yesterday and she is so excited.   Horseback riding (hippotherapy) is another highly recommended activity for Jackie.  In the past, I have contacted a few organizations that supposedly offer free hippotherapy provided by volunteers and/or physical therapy students.  Unfortunately, I never had success getting anybody to contact me back.  I had given up on it and figured that we were just one of the unlucky ones.  This past week, Jackie's occupational therapist gave me information in which a university in St. Louis is looking for young recruits for a study in hippotherapy.  From what I understand, the hippotherapy is free for the participant.  I am going to contact the school this week so please pray that we can have success.  I really hope we can get Jackie into this study.  Jackie has been on a horse before and she loved it so I know she would get a lot of benefit from something like this. 

Again this past week, a fellow "special needs" mom shared with me about an organization that grants wishes to children who have medical issues that are not necessarily life-threatening.  The child can have CP, spina bifida, a syndrome, anything that is chronic or permanent.  I was strongly encouraged to nominate Jackie for this.  The more I thought about it, I decided that Jackie deserves a chance at this.  She has been through so much in her life.  Most people have no clue because Jackie looks so "normal".  Jackie had a rough start in life from the very beginning.  Not only is it suspected that she suffered a stroke, but she was also very jaundiced (which caused her to have to stay in the hospital) and she was diagnosed with "failure-to-thrive."  Jackie was a very frail baby.  I can admit now that I was so afraid that my baby was going to die during that first year.  I was a such a mess. But Jackie is such a fighter and continues to be such.  Jackie had an MRI at age 6 months which led to her diagnosis of CP.  She has been in weekly therapies since then.  She started speech therapy just over 1 year of age.  Thank God for Early Intervention!  Jackie was 23 months old when she had her first foot surgery.  She then had a major (and very painful) foot surgery at age 5 years.  She receives spine and hip x-rays every 9-12 months because she is at risk of scoliosis and hip dysplasia.  The scoliosis risk is due in part to Jackie's posture (thanks to CP).  The hip dysplasia risk is due to the fact that Jackie is a female and was breech the entire time I carried her before giving birth to her.  The risk has to do with estrogen development.  Jackie has been through a lot more than most of her peers.  She is a fighter, a trooper. It would be a real blessing if she could be rewarded with something that would allow her a break and not worry about therapy getting in the way.  She really wants to go to Disney World but more than that, she wants to see Winter the Dolphin. Both of those are local to my mother-in-law, with whom we stay when we go to Florida.  How cool would that be?

One more thing.  This afternoon, Tim received a phone call from the pastor of our church.  Apparently, somebody wants to help us financially to get Jackie's hearing aids.  We recently found out that Jackie could really benefit from hearing aids in BOTH ears (I knew it was at least one ear) due to mild to moderate hearing loss.  Hearing aids are far from cheap (minimum of $2000) and unfortunately, our insurance does not cover them.  I don't recall telling very many people about Jackie's need for hearing aids.  I know I told just a handful of people.  But somehow, word has gotten around about it.  I'm not sure how I feel about this.  I have a difficult time receiving, especially generous gifts, but this is big.  We can't accept it.  We're not rich.  We're not poor, either.  We are not in deep debt but it has been very difficult to save much since both of our kids have special needs.  We didn't plan for this but this is what was handed to us and we're doing our best to provide the best for our children.  I still cannot fathom accepting such an offer.  I have worked hard for nearly everything I have (as well as has Tim).  I would feel guilty accepting such a generous gift.  With this sequester (and subsequent pay cut) looming over us, I was planning on holding off on Jackie's hearing aids for another few months anyway.  We will get them eventually.  Whoever has offered such a generous gift, I am very thankful for thinking so kindly of us.  I often feel like we're such unimportant people, even at church, but this has made me feel loved.  I don't know by who but I feel loved by them.  And I am touched and I feel tremendously blessed by them. So, whoever you are, thank you for thinking about us.