American Legion donates to CHD Foster Children

Three members of the American Legion recently visited CHD to present a donation of $500 which will go toward purchasing travel bags and necessities for CHD foster children. “Too often a child arrives on our doorsteps with what little belongings they have packed into a black trash bag. The American Legion and CHD believe that providing these children with their own personalized travel bag is a wonderful opportunity to show them how much they are cared for and about.”

The American Legion recognizes the need restore a child’s self-worth and strives to support quality non-profit organizations like CHD that provide services for children and youth; and to provide communities with well-rounded programs that meet the physical, educational, emotional and spiritual needs of young people. 

To reach the American Legion please visit:

www.masslegion.org

There’s a full article on how CHD helps children in our foster care program who have suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, trauma, PTSD, or attachment disorder. Read it here.

To reach CHD please email Kim Lee, VP of Development at Klee@chd.org or call 413-439-2252

Teaching etiquette gains life lessons

When Deborah Jones thinks back on her 20 years with CHD, she can describe many different ways she’s helped people, but there’s one story she loves to share. It starts when Jim Goodwin, CHD’s President and CEO, asked her about a new job.

“Jim connected me with a program director and she and I clicked right away,” Deb recalls. “But then she told me she wanted me to work with adolescent girls. Say what?!  My own daughters were growing out of adolescence at the time. I didn’t really want to get back into that whole scene, especially with girls facing who knows what kind of issues in their lives. But I’m at CHD to help, so I reluctantly accepted the position. Then I arrived at the Caring Together and fell in love. I’m going on 7 years on this site.”

Caring Together Intensive Group Home serves girls 12 to 18 years old. They often struggle with issues related to trauma, abuse, depression, self-harm, and substance use, among others. CHD’s on-site team provides the girls with integrated mental health, occupational therapy and nursing services, as well as direct care. Referrals to all Caring Together group homes are made through the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) or the Department of Mental Health (DMH).

“This isn’t where all of these girls would like to be,” Deb says, “but we make it feel like home. Honestly, for some of these girls, it feels more like home than anywhere they’ve lived.”

Deb says an important part of the work she and her staff do is giving the girls a routine. “They have to help cook and clean and keep their rooms tidy. It’s just how it is. They have to communicate with each other in an appropriate manner. Nothing less is acceptable. There’s no physical contact allowed, no PC as we say, and there are alarms on all doors and windows. They have to go to school and some of them go to a job. There are standards and every girl has to live up to them.”

It’s a tight ship, but Deb and her staff also make room for fun. “Every weekend we have activity schedule. Tonight it’s Red Box movies and getting pizza and hanging out together. Tomorrow is a sleepover where we ‘camp out’ together. Sometimes we have Spa Night where we do each other’s hair and nails. They’re girls, after all, they should have the chance to just be girls. We sing Karaoke, jump double Dutch, dance, and laugh. They keep me young.”

Ask Deb for an example of what she means and the stories flow. “I had a second job where I took care of an elderly woman. I just loved her. She was a smart lady, an accountant. Well, she passed away and of course I was heartbroken.  Anyway, we have this fund raiser every year for kids and families who didn’t have much and the daughter of this woman knew about it. She reached out to me and said her family decided it would have made her mom happy if they could do something for my girls in Caring Together.”

What happened as a result of this special donation was simply amazing.

“The girls were on school vacation,” Deb recalls. “I made them all a wonderful brunch and turned it into an etiquette class. We went over how you sit properly at a table in a nice restaurant, what’s appropriate conversation at the table, how to order your meal properly and interact with a waiter when something you got wasn’t what you asked for. It was fun. Some of these girls had never gone out anywhere nice to eat—not ever—so it was all new.”

The etiquette class was part of a plan that Deb was keeping under wraps. “I didn’t want my girls to be on good behavior just because they knew something good was going to happen. So on Friday afternoon I had the staff take the girls shopping for a new outfit for each of them. Dress, shoes, hosiery, you know, a nice outfit. I told them all the new outfit stays on a hanger—you may not wear it. Well, they started coming in the house and showing me their outfits on the hangers. They were all excited. So I said to them, ‘I’m feeling kind of hungry, do you think we should go out to dinner tonight?’ They did! I sent them upstairs to get showers and put on their new outfits and do each other’s hair. It was like prom night, girls being girls. When they came down I said, ‘Girls do a cat walk for me and tell me how you’re feeling about yourselves in the moment.’ They felt so good about themselves. Then I said, ‘Let’s just go over what we talked about in etiquette class.’ And we did and they all took it seriously. I told them, ‘Girls, we are one band with one sound. We are a team. If there are any issues whatsoever, we will all be coming back.’ But I knew they felt too good about themselves to let that happen.”

They were ready to go…almost. “They were saying, ‘C’mon, Miss Deb, can’t we GO?’ I told them, ‘Now wait, there’s one more thing. We have the most beautiful ladies in Springfield right here and I think you look way too good to ride to Connecticut in staff cars, so I called in a ride for you.’ I pulled back the curtain and there in our driveway was a stretch limo. Only one of the girls had ever been in a limo before and it was for a funeral. I was able to get a company to donate a limo and I even got the owner to provide a woman chauffeur. The last thing I wanted on a special night was a trigger from a male authority figure or something that would make a girl uncomfortable.”

So imagine the faces of these girls. Surprise, you’re going shopping for new outfits! Surprise, you’re going out to a nice restaurant for dinner tonight! Surprise, you’re getting there in a stretch limo! Every girl behaved right and all of them had a blast. The experience taught them important lessons about what is appropriate behavior and how to be responsible to yourself and to your group. It also gave them the chance to just be girls. Laughing, smiling, beautiful teenaged girls.

“The outfits and the dinner, all of that was made possible by a generous family who had just lost their mother. They knew she’d be happy to help my girls. Look, I know these girls have hit some roadblocks and I know some will have hiccups, but for me it’s about them knowing there’s another way. Girl, if you get off track, you know what it is to get on track because it’s been laid out for you. You’ve seen the right direction, now you just need to go that way. We have standards and expectations, but we will never have this house feel like a program. It will feel like home. I need people to understand what these girls do for me. I am in love. I love these girls. I will not give up this battle.”

 

Adaptive Martial Arts

Instructor Ken Goodrich is a 3rd Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo, a nine time US and World Breaking Association champion, and a three time USA Taekwondo champion in Board Breaking. He has broken 12 concrete blocks at once…using his elbow. What does someone with a skill set like that offer to kids with disabilities? Quite a lot. And when CHD Disability Resources reached out to him about teaching a class in Adaptive Martial Arts, he was all in.

“We realize this program has to be different for everyone, so we talk to families and fit what I’m teaching to their needs,” Goodrich explained. “Martial arts training is about motivation and confidence. We always want a positive attitude so people feel good and don’t give up. It’s also about respect. The kids are expected to address the instructor with courtesy, as sir, and to show respect for their peers.”

Among the eight kids in class, one has cerebral palsy, two are blind, one has prosthetic legs, one is autistic, two have ADHD, and one has epilepsy. Goodrich starts the class by sitting in a circle to talk. He wants to get to know everyone’s name and something about them. “If I don’t know you, it’s hard to teach you,” he tells the kids. “We’re family here so everybody gets what they need. In this class there is no excuse for not trying your best.”  

Right away it appears that expectations in this class may be higher than some of these kids have been exposed to in other environments. When one kid says, “But I can’t…” Goodrich interrupts and says, “Don’t say those words! Do the best you can. Everyone is expected to do the best they can.”

Importantly, what constitutes “the best I can do” is different for each kid, and Goodrich is not critical of the outcome, only the effort. “We’re figuring it all out, but I’m not taking it easy on you. Are you OK? Do you want a hug? C’mon, you can do it. Do the best you can.”

Half way through the class, kids break out into groups. Leanne, who has epilepsy, works with an instructor and thinks about her goal: a kick. Her wheels are spinning and she is focused. “Know in your head that you can do it,” the instructor says. Her kicks get higher with increasingly good form. She smiles realizing what she can do.

“Leanne is 11 and goes to middle school in Agawam,” her mom Lynn explains. “She’s athletic and likes to move her body. She has enjoyed playing basketball and soccer at her own pace with some good coaches. I was looking for something different and I learned about CHD’s Disability Resources. I talked with Jessica Levine and she told me about the Adaptive Martial Arts class. I wanted Leanne to be with other kids, and everyone here is mellow and supportive. I can already see a difference in her. She is happier and looks forward to being here. It’s uplifting to be in a welcoming community, to be with other parents, and to get out of the house and be active. I think it’s great.”

How does Leanne feel about Adaptive Martial Arts? She says, “It makes me feel happy, like a butterfly.”

As these kids with disabilities complete another session of Adaptive Martial Arts and head off with their families, each one is better for having lived up to a simple expectation: do the best you can.

Leanne was able to attend the entire 8-week Adaptive Martial Arts session because a generous benefactor donated her tuition. Disability Resources receives no state or federal money to run our programs. Every dollar of our funding—100%—is raised through grants, special events and generous people. When you make a generous donation to Disability Resources, just follow the charge given to these disabled children: do the best you can.

 

To learn more at Adaptive Martial Arts or any CHD Disability Resources program, contact Jessica Levine at 413-788-9695 or jlevine@chd.org