Letter to my high school self: What the doctor should’ve said

thrive-logoAs promised in my previous post last Wednesday, I submitted a letter this week to the Letters to Thrive blog. The site is easy to access, and it even has a What Should I Write About? link for those with writer’s block. Writing my letter was a bittersweet experience – I felt sad for my younger self while simultaneously feeling hopeful for the future. Here’s an excerpt:

13 November 2014

Dear Younger Self,
The blip on your popularity chart peaked off the screen last week when you returned to high school — the other kids think it’s cool to know someone who was in the hospital and was almost in a coma.
Right now The two shots you take each day are long-acting insulins, far too slow and weak to handle the carbohydrates in the popcorn you like to snack on, the ten-cent rice dish you buy to save money in the high school cafeteria at lunch and the ice cream you cheat with from time to time.
female-icon-blueThis was your third hospital visit during your high school years, and before you were released this time, your doctor declared you won’t live to see your 30th birthday. What you and your doctor don’t know right now is that later on in your life, people with Type 1 diabetes will be able to test their blood glucose levels at home throughout the day. They’ll use an insulin pump or take a shot of fast-acting insulin to counteract the sugar and carbohydrates in all sorts of foods. You’ll be able to be more spontaneous, you won’t have to plan every meal, and you won’t have to feel guilty when you snack.
What your doctor could have told you as you left the hospital this time was to keep taking care of yourself the best you can — that way you’ll live to enjoy these breakthroughs.

I hope this excerpt intrigues you enough to read the entire letter at Letters to Thrive. Once you’re there, please consider writing and submitting a letter of your own – our letters help Thrive create a community from shared life experiences.


Meet our top 5 candidates for a dream mentorship with Judd Apatow

This time last year, Easter Seals Dixon Center launched the first in a series of public service announcements focused on veteran employment. The PSAs were not the typical, tear-at-your-heartstrings videos that flood the airways. Led by an all-star veteran cast and crew, these 30-second spots use light humor to challenge public perceptions of returning veterans. The two PSAs were hits with veterans and civilians alike, and continue to air on broadcast and cable TV.

Looking ahead to 2015, the launch of our third installment in the series is shaping up to be the biggest one yet. This time, we’re collaborating with a famous Easter Seals friend who’s built an award-winning career around humor: Judd Apatow. Yes, you read that right—the producer, director, writer responsible for your favorite 21st century comedy is lending his support for a new Easter Seals Dixon Center PSA. In addition to being Hollywood’s favorite funnyman, Judd Apatow is a passionate supporter of veterans. He regularly employs veterans on his film sets and is excited to mentor an aspiring veteran filmmaker.

Earlier this fall our awesome partner, Veterans in Film and Television — a networking organization for veterans, created by veterans—put out a call to its 2,000+ members for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. One deserving filmmaker will get to spend time with Judd Apatow. The selected candidate will then use his or her knowledge from the experience to direct the upcoming Easter Seals Dixon Center PSA.
To say we were blown away by the submissions is a complete understatement. Over 50 inspiring filmmakers lent their time and talent to create an original PSA concept and video pitch to Judd and our team. Helping review submissions was hands-down, the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of. It was amazing to learn about the candidates and their visions for where we could take this next PSA.

After carefully reviewing each candidate’s video pitch, concept, prior experience and portfolio, we narrowed the field down to five fantastic veteran filmmakers. Stay tuned for an announcement of our winner in early December. For now, we’d like to highlight the amazing contributions of our top five. It’s my pleasure to introduce in no particular order Kevin, Rebecca, Jim, Patrick and Brayden:

  • Kevin Resnick: Kevin is an award-winning writer, director, and actor who served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. After his service, Kevin made a career in acting, starring in several acclaimed films on the national festival circuit. Kevin’s writing and directing credits have screened in festivals worldwide, including the famed Cannes Film Festival.
  • Rebecca Murga: Rebecca works in Los Angeles as a writer and director. In addition to her work in film, she is a Captain and Public Affairs Officer in the US Army Reserve who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rebecca’s work has appeared on “Good Morning America,” “The View” and in “The New York Times,” to name a few. Rebecca’s newest endeavor, “War Ink” is a project that brings together videos and photographs of tattooed service members, in an effort to bridge the divide between veterans and civilian communities.
  • Jim Fabio: Jim got his start behind-the-camera as a Combat Camera Officer in the U.S. Air Force, producing documentaries and covering combat operations for the Department of Defense. Following his service, Jim continued to pursue his passion for filmmaking. He’s an accomplished director and producer, earning awards for his work in sports documentaries and music.



  • Patrick Mulderrig: Director, Actor and Navy SEAL, Patrick Mulderrig has done it all. Patrick’s used his keen sense of humor to develop, Team Guys, a comedic feature on Navy SEALS. Patrick’s also in the process of developing a web series.

  • Brayden Yoder: Brayden decided to pursue a career in film after first serving as a U.S. Army officer in Germany and Iraq. While serving as an officer, Brayden developed a passion for cross-cultural communication. He spent five years at the Film and Television Institute of India, developing his latest film, “Breakdown.”


We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all 53 applicants. The submissions were incredible and we look forward to working with these talented men and women for future endeavors. We encourage you to view their portfolios and learn more about Veterans in Film and Television. Stay tuned for the big announcement after Thanksgiving!


Women with disabilities write to their past selves

thrivesliderEaster Seals has been supporting mentorship programs for many years, and in 2012 we helped launch a mentorship program focused on young women with disabilities. The program is called Thrive, and the offline program is based at Easter Seals Massachusetts. We’ve just expanded nationally online at Easterseals.com/thrive so anyone can join in!

Last year Thrive’s program coordinator Sandy Ho helped launch a Letters to Thrive blog encouraging women with disabilities to write letters to their younger selves. I follow the Letters to Thrive blog, and I found Sandy’s letter so compelling that I wanted to share it with you Easter Seals blog readers.

12 June 2013

You’ve just begun college, and I gotta admit that you are already a different person than you were just a few months ago. But right now I am writing to you five years later from the future, and there is even more that will surprise you about yourself even though right now sitting in your dorm room you feel like you’ve got everything all figured out.

The truth is that you don’t have it all figured out. And I know that that scares you to admit. It scares you because it makes you feel alone and isolated, because you are holding onto some secret mystery that you think only you have to hold onto for dear life. Right now you don’t even know what that secret mystery is, it’s just a presence inside of you that you’ve become used to until the day you begin to give it a name and let others in on it too. Over time the secret doesn’t really become heavier or any lighter on your shoulders, it just becomes less of an elephant inside of you and more of a light.

Spoiler alert: You aren’t afraid to try even though up until now you haven’t experienced failures that will leave you in your bed for days, crying and refusing to talk to anyone. You aren’t afraid to jump into things and become involved even though those decisions may make you completely re-think the person you are, and what you’re capable of. But most of all you are unafraid to reach out to others and help, even though you will learn in that process parts of yourself you were too embarrassed to admit, and quite frankly felt like you didn’t know the words to explain what you wanted and why.

I will say that five years later none of those things have stopped being true. At least now you know what that secret mystery inside of you is. You know that it hasn’t really stopped being a mystery, maybe less of a secret because you have found so many others to share it with. But there are still some parts of it that are unknown, and I am so grateful to have discovered other disabled women whose experiences and willingness to come together allow the questions from yesterday and today to ignite your passions for tomorrow.

Love always,
Your future self

Sandy’s is just one of many letters that have been submitted to Letters to Thrive on Tumblr. Some are empowering, some are resourceful, some give advice, and some are empathetic. Letter-writers brag, vent and celebrate. one thing they all have in common? They’re all honest.

The Letters to Thrive is creating a community out of shared life experiences, and they’re looking to grow. If you are a woman with a disability, please consider writing a letter to your younger self and submitting it to Letters to Thrive. I’m working on a letter myself and will be sharing it with both the Letters to Thrive blog on Tumblr and here on the Easter Seals blog as well. Stay tuned!


Helping each other to teach a student who is blind

Seedlings LogoLate last month my Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I flew to Orlando to give a presentation at the Florida Association for the Education of Young Children conference. I’d intended on giving examples of ways to teach young children about blindness, but that all changed after we went around the room introducing ourselves.

One woman there was a teacher trainer at Head Start in Tampa. That very morning she’d been told that a three-year-old who’d just enrolled is blind. “I have no idea what to tell the teachers to do with him,” she said. “I thought coming to hear you might be a good place to start.”

Another audience member taught sign language at a nursery school that regularly has teenagers who are blind come in as volunteers. She’d come to find out if there was some way to incorporate Braille in her preschool. Another audience member had taught at a school for the blind years ago. “I came just to hear what you have to say,” she said.

And so, here’s what I had to say: forget my presentation. We need to help this Head Start woman!

Okay, not really. What I actually said was, “How about we move our chairs and sit in a circle?” Everyone there had the handout I’d put together with lists of resources and ideas to teach children about blindness that they could read on their own when they got home, so instead of talking about that we all shared ideas and resources about how to include a child who is blind into a preschool classroom.

At the end of the hour the Head Start teacher trainer walked out armed with the Braille copy of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound that I’d brought along, and a list of names and email addresses others in the circle had come up with for her to contact for help. Most importantly, she left with reassurances from people in the room who had dealt with blindness before. “I bet you’ll be surprised at what fun this boy will be at Head Start,” the teacher who had taught at a school for the blind told her as she left. “You’ll all end up learning a lot.”


I’m not mad at my mother: I’m mad at Alzheimer’s

I am pleased to introduce Barbara Brawley as a guest blogger today – I have a strong feeling many of you blog readers will relate to her honest and thoughtful post about caring for her mother.


by Barbara Brawley

caregiver-senior-hands_317x224My mother has always been a strong person: physically, emotionally and spiritually. She has always been my best friend and confident. Over the years, we have traveled and done many things together.

I started taking care of my mother about 12 years ago after my father died. She has some physical issues and that has always been my concern, but about a year ago when she was 84, she was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease.

My mother is still able to recognize people and do many things for herself, but she has little recall. Caregiving is challenging. It can be a lonely job. It can be frustrating to provide her with constant reminders and repeat the same conversation we just had. One of the hardest things is that she is still aware that she is not remembering or moving as quickly as she used to when she was younger.

I try to do some deep breathing or count to ten before I speak. When I don’t do this, my anger shows. Guilt sets in. I remind myself to do better next time.

As I’ve reflected on my temperament, I realize I am not mad at my mother. I am mad at Alzheimer’s. I do not want this disease to take my mother away from me entirely. We have always been close, and I think that is a real benefit to us now.

We still laugh and enjoy our time together. My mother is still a strong person, but now, more than ever, she needs a sense of purpose, and she needs to know she is still loved. Alzheimer’s has taught us to live and enjoy the moment. When all is said and done, being together at this moment is all we have.

Cherish the good times together.


I’ve left Easter Seals to become a teacher and here’s why

Rachel Talen headshotYesterday was my last day at Easter Seals. I’ve worked here nearly five years. It’s hard to believe I’ve left a job and organization I love, but I’ve done it to pursue a long-time dream of mine: teaching.

I have so many mixed emotions about leaving Easter Seals! The thing is, though, that my work here at Easter Seals is what prompted me to want to teach.

Easter Seals gave me many opportunities to volunteer in local communities. Walk With Me, fundraisers and countless other events allowed me to “give back” in so many ways. Over time, writing stories about our precious families, hearing their testimonies, doing photo shoots and celebrating milestones with them, I came to realize I wanted more direct contact with the people Easter Seals serves.

I remember seeing loving therapists encouraging kids during a tour of the inclusive childcare center at Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region. My heart melted all over the floor, and I thought to myself, “I need to do this every day!” And then, I learned so much about reintegrating and finding veteran employment through Easter Seals Dixon Center. I’ve become incredibly passionate about a population with other types of special needs: military kids.

All of these experiences led me to accept a middle school teaching position at a charter school on the west side of Chicago. With grants for Next Generation Learning, the school can accommodate multi-grade classrooms and lots of resources and technology. When I visited, I saw students sitting on bouncy balls and couches, curled up and reading with iPads and using the SMARTboards to do their math work.

Older students are allowed an elective class, so the first class I will teach on my own is 8th grade psychology! How cool is that?! I’m so excited to work with all types of students, including those with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), and deliver response to intervention (RtI) for students with special needs.

My four-plus years at Easter Seals taught me a lot about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and accommodating students with varying abilities. I feel confident about differentiating my lessons to appeal to all types of learners. My work with the Make the First Five Count program here at Easter Seals enlightened me about how crucial early intervention is, and why it’s important to address problems right away if a student needs extra help.

But I am an Easter Seals lifer, so I am not leaving completely! We often joked at the headquarters office that this organization and its work gets in your blood. I am so thankful for my experiences here and for the love and support from my coworkers, family and friends.

Easter Seals taught me that in life, people matter most. No matter your ability, where you are in life or where you have come from, every person — and every student — is valuable. I can’t wait to bring my Easter Seals values to the classroom and to my future students. Just think what they’ll learn about focusing on what’s possible in life and on the opportunities that are out there to help them succeed.

I refuse to say goodbye, though. For now, it’s see you later!


What Veterans Day means to me

SutherlandFamilyToday we celebrate Veterans Day. It’s a special day at Easter Seals because of the work we do all year to support veterans and military families. Last year alone we served about 165,000 members of this special community.

We asked some of our staffers at Easter Seals Dixon Center, the military and veterans’ arm of Easter Seals, what Veterans Day means to them. Their answers make us proud – and we thank them for their dedication.


Iraq“Veterans Day is the celebration of service, sacrifice and love of country by those willing to be part of something much bigger than themselves by serving in our armed forces.”

—COL David Sutherland, US Army (ret.), chairman and chief strategist, Easter Seals Dixon Center, 29 years in the US Army, first generation in his family to serve in the United States



Mitchel Veteranl

“A veteran is someone who is willing to give up everything to ensure that you and I have the freedoms that we often take for granted. It’s even more personal for me because I’m only here in the United States because of a Vietnam veteran who adopted me from a Vietnamese orphanage and brought me home.”

—Kim Mitchell, president, Easter Seals Dixon Center, 17 years in the US Navy, spokesperson for the Department of Defense 50 Year Vietnam War Commemoration Committee



Heidenheimer“Veterans Day is a day to take a moment and thank all of those who have stepped up to serve our country, past and present. Our family likes to use this as a day to especially thank the older veterans. It may have been a long time since they have served, but we should never forget them. In my mind, once a veteran, always a veteran; it is not something that you stop being as you age.  Times may change, veterans’ needs may change, but war has the same effects on our military men and women across the years. Their stories should not be lost, and what they have to say can be invaluable.  Veterans Day is also a day for me to teach my two young sons to respect those who have worn the uniform like their dad, uncle, cousins, and their grandfathers.  It is a time to remind them of the importance of freedom and what some people have sacrificed to make sure we keep it.”

—Sara Heidenheimer, administrative coordinator, granddaughter of two Army veterans, wife of an active duty Navy Chief



Veterans Day“Veterans Day has always been a day of reflection and thanks for those who do the hard work to keep my world safe. Now that I’m married to a disabled veteran from the Afghanistan conflict, it’s a day to remember how lucky I am to have people like him in my life. And it’s a day to thank him once again for the sacrifices he made for us.”

—Marie Manning, communications consultant, Easter Seals Dixon Center, and wife of a former U.S. Army and National Guard Sergeant



Kuhne“On Veterans Day, I honor the service. I honor the sacrifices. I respect the life decisions, and I am grateful for those who can stand in a position I physically don’t know if I could force myself to do. For me, Veterans Day is about each face. The one of a sister. A brother-in-law. A mommy. A dad. A leader who will always have your back – whether it be on a patrol or if you’re in a new town full of strangers and homesick for a family dinner. I thank those who have served so that I can have freedoms and safety. But it’s more than that. It’s about remembering them not only on November 11th – but also every single day afterwards.”

     — Nancy Kuhne, major gifts officer, Easter Seals Dixon Center, and military family member



HBO celebrates Veterans Day with The Concert of Valor

Concert for Valor blogStarbucks, HBO and Chase are recognizing 16 veteran service organizations (VSOs) this Veterans Day on November 11th — and we are delighted to announce Easter Seals Dixon Center is included in this group! These VSOs are being highlighted for outstanding service and support of veterans and their families and will benefit from a very special THE CONCERT FOR VALOR.

This free event will honor the courage and sacrifice of America’s veterans and their families on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and will be presented live, free, and open to non-subscribers on HBO this Veterans Day, Tuesday, November 11th (7:00 p.m. ET/4:00 p.m. PT). The concert will feature a talented line-up of musicians including The Black Keys, Bruce Springsteen, Carrie Underwood, Dave Grohl, Eminem, Metallica, Rihanna and the Zac Brown Band, all for the purpose of creating awareness and engaging Americans to learn more, get involved and share with others.

It’s like Colonel David Sutherland, U.S. Army (ret.), Chairman, Easter Seals Dixon Center and Chief Strategist, Easter Seals Military and Veterans Services says: “It’s time to break down the barriers that clog up the prospects for our veterans. That’s why we’re standing side-by-side this Veterans Day with the organizers and performers at THE CONCERT FOR VALOR. It’s not about charity. It’s about opportunity – the opportunity to ensure that veterans and military families succeed where they live.”

At Easter Seals, we believe veterans and military families make valuable, long-lasting contributions to our community. We established Easter Seals Dixon Center as a way to support veterans’ transition back to civilian life through our network of resources and services. We invite you to:

  • Watch or host a concert watch party of the concert on November 11th.
  • Refer a veteran or loved one needing support to Easter Seals Dixon Center or the Community OneSource hotline (866) 423-4981 veterans@easterseals.com).

Easter Seals Dixon Center encourages the American public, and especially employers, to gain a new appreciation for the value of veterans in the workforce and society as a whole, something THE CONCERT FOR VALOR will undoubtedly shine a spotlight upon.

Thank you for all that you do to support our veterans and their families, and please join us in tuning in to salute them!


Easter Seals to host the Chicago Glen Campbell movie premiere

glencampbell-marquee--finalGet your cowboy boots ready, Chicago! This Friday evening Easter Seals is hosting the Chicago premiere of “Glen Campbell…I’ll be Me”. The film follows country music legend Glen Campbell on his farewell tour after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011.

I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the film earlier this year, and it’s a must-see! The documentary is a thought-provoking story that pays homage to the power of music and family. Director James Keach, a Golden Globe winner for his work on “Walk the Line,” captures the emotional impact this tragic disease has on the Campbell family.

I’m not the only one singing the praises for the film–Richard Roeper recently proclaimed “Glen Campbell…I’ll be Me” as “one of the most remarkable documentaries in recent years.” The film has been a success in the film festival circuit and won the grand jury prize after premiering at the Nashville Film Festival.

Now you may be thinking, “What does Easter Seals have to do with Glen Campbell, or Alzheimer’s for that matter?” From the moment Glen gets his tragic diagnosis, his loving family steps in as his primary caregivers. Glen’s wife, Kim, handles Glen’s deteriorating health with grace. Glen’s talented children accompany him on tour as his bandmates. Glen holds on to his good-humor and incredible musical gift, thanks to his compassionate caregivers.

When it comes to caregivers and caregiving, that’s what Easter Seals is all about. Easter Seals provides services and support for all types of caregivers, whether these hidden heroes are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, for a returning veteran, for an adult with an intellectual disability or for a child with special needs. Easter Seals wants to show the 66 million caregivers nationwide that they’re not alone.

Beyond caregivers, this is a film that will resonate with all generations. Whether you grew up singing along to “Rhinestone Cowboy” or you count Taylor Swift as your peer, you will find this film to be both entertaining and educational.

I especially encourage my millennial peers to view the film. As a 22-year-old blessed with two healthy parents, I haven’t really thought much about my own eventual role as a caregiver. We grow up to believe our parents are invincible and that their primary responsibility is to care for us. All too often, this role reverses before we’re prepared.

An increase in average lifespan has led more people into the caregiver role at a younger age. Glen’s daughter Ashley, an up-and-coming country musician, is only 27. Gen X and Y must prepare themselves as the next generation of caregivers.

Early next year, MassMutual is releasing a study based on this new face of caregiving. In the meantime, I hope my fellow Chicagoans will join me and register for the November 7 premiere. For those not in the Chicago area, check out the official “Glen Campbell…I’ll be Me” website to see when it’s coming by a theater near you.

Plus, share your love and admiration for a caregiver in your life with a photo or message on www.loveisagift.com and our friends at Mass Mutual will donate $5 to Easter Seals for every post!


Accessible voting machines and voting hotlines

voting-pamphletElections are tomorrow. That means it’s time to let readers know about hotlines available to people with disabilities who run into trouble when they try to vote independently at polling places. I’ve had issues accessing the talking voting machines in previous elections, and it’s comforting to know voting specialists  — and the poll workers – are there to help me resolve these problems. The National Federation of the Blind’s toll-free hotline (877-632-1940) has always been a big help. Other hotlines are ready to help people with disabilities who have problems voting, too:

  • U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Voting Section: for complaints related to ballot access, call 800-253-3931, or 202-307-2767. TTY: 877-267-8971
  • Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law: for questions about competency of voters/mental Illness issues, call 202-467-5730 ext. 122
  • Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights under Law Election Protection Hotline: For help with disability/access issues, call 866-OURVOTE.

During the last election, my issue with the voting machine couldn’t be resolved, and my husband, who can see, had to sign an affidavit to be able to help me with a written ballot. Voting specialists on the National Federation of the Blind hotline recorded details and referred my issue “to the proper authorities for follow-up action.” My hope is that the follow-up worked, and things go smoothly at the polling places tomorrow — not only for me, but for all of us.