2016: A Year in Review and A Look Forward

The theme of 2016 at ESNG was expansion. We expanded our programs, reach, events and accreditations. Let’s take a look back at what we did as we get ready for a fun and exciting 2017.for blog

Last year, we piloted the innovative STEM in early education at our Brookvalley location. Thanks to funding from the Sibley Award and Frances Hollis Brain Foundation, we are expanding the program to our Guice, Mansell and Warsaw locations.

20151112_143926_resized Continue reading “2016: A Year in Review and A Look Forward”

#SuccessStartsHere: Eliavah’s Story

This month we are looking at how ESNG can help your special needs child overcome challenges – social, emotional, or physical – and live, learn, and play fully and freely. One of the many ways we do this is through the Champions for Children program. The program works with families whose children do not qualify for the Katie Beckett Waiver. Their children’s medical needs require so much attention that it’s difficult for them financially. One such child is Eliavah.


Eliavah is a sweet five-year-old girl who has been in therapies since she was six months old. She was diagnosed at birth with tetralogy of fallot, and underwent open heart surgery at four months old to repair her defects.

Later, after not meeting typical milestones, she was diagnosed with low muscle tone. A team of specialists has followed Eliavah her whole life to try to determine a cause behind her conditions. Although an exact cause has not been discovered, she struggles daily to overcome developmental delays and sensory processing disorder.

In the last two years, she has struggled with sleep issues and possible allergies that affect her daily living. Her family is in the process of trying to detect the cause of these, and how to best help her.

It is because of Champions for Children that Eliavah has been able to continue her needed therapies, and get help with extraneous medical expenses that would be a burden on the family otherwise. She continues to show progress and even spends half of her day in kindergarten in general education class!

She is very proud of her abilities that she has gained through hard work and therapy. She can now read and her writing is improving daily. Her independent skills are also improving in areas such as self dressing and grooming.

She is truly becoming a more confident young lady. Her mother says, “We are forever grateful for the blessing in our lives through Champions for Children. The staff has not only been loving and encouraging, but prompt and professional in helping our family and this makes a huge difference in the lives of parents that have children with needs!!!”


Monthly wrap up – June & July

Don’t get mad at the messenger, but summer break is almost over! We did a lot in June and July and here’s a quick wrap up of our activities:



We hope you are enjoying the lazy days of summer. When we say lazy, though, we hope you don’t forget the importance of safety during the season of pools, beaches, sun, trips, insects, and heat! Just to help you out so you can go back to enjoying the fun, we’ve put together some quick safety tips.

Mansell Dad

They say that parenting is the hardest, yet most rewarding job. Dads play an equally important role in parenting as do mothers, but sometimes their importance gets overlooked. How do Dads make a difference? Here are just 5 of the many reasons why.


Don’t forget that it’s very important to make sure your kids continue to learn even though they are not going to school in the next couple of months. Here’s a look back at our tips to help you and your kids prevent summer brain drain.


At ESNG, we believe in inclusive learning. That includes summer camp. Meet Nicholas, who has spina bifida, who attends a fun and engaging summer camp – with just a few accommodations.

Around ESNG:


This month two of our centers, Brookvalley and Mansell, joined Premier Academy, Madison County, and Warsaw in receiving the prestigious Quality Rating from the Department of Early Care and Learning: Bright From the Start. According to Bright From the Start, “Quality Rated is Georgia’s system to determine, improve, and communicate the quality of programs that provide child care.” We are thrilled to be recognized for our staff’s hard work to educate vulnerable children in Atlanta and northeast Georgia.


Children at our Mansell location had an exciting visit from local emergency workers. Firefighters and paramedics came by and showed kids what they do to keep us safe. They also talked about what kids need to do to be safe in our communities.


Our STEM consultant, Garry Harris, was recognized by President Clinton for his achievements in STEM and early education. ESNG is excited to partner with Mr. Harris and have his expertise as we prepare our children with the tools and knowledge they need to be successful in school and life.


Office Depot Foundation generously donated 300 sackpacks filled with school supplies to us earlier this month. This donation ensures that our children will be ready to learn come August! Thank you, Office Depot.


Even though it’s summer time, that doesn’t slow down our volunteer program. We had six groups of corporate volunteers from Frazier Deeter, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Kabbage, Cox Automotive, Salesforce, and UPS. These volunteers played with and read to our kids or painted and sanitized classrooms to get them ready for August!

Thank you to all these groups!
Here are photos from the events.

Summer camp: The best week ever…

Attending summer camp is a rite of passage for many kids. If a child has a disability, though, going to summer camp may be more difficult.

Nicholas is an outgoing 11 year old who loves robotics, engineering, and math. When you meet Nicholas, the first thing you notice is that he is happy. He lights up when he talks about STEM, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Camp Invention – oh, and he was born with myelomeningocele, a form of spina bifida.



Nicholas’s mom, Michele, has always encouraged and supported her son to follow his dreams. So, when he was interested in attending a STEM-themed day camp, she was excited, yet apprehensive. Nicholas requires an accommodation for his medical issue. In the past, she has had a difficult time finding adequate care for Nicholas. “When I called to enroll Nicholas, I talked to Windy [Camp Invention’s director]. She immediately told me, ‘Sure, no problem. We’d love to have him’.”

This is his second summer at Camp Invention in Powder Springs, Ga. Each day of the week he builds solar-powered robot bugs, designs an eco-adventure park and discovers the science of slime. He works in groups with other pre-teens who have no idea of his spina bifida. The camp makes one accommodation for him, and that’s all he needs to participate in one of his favorite activities with some of his favorite people.


Nicholas receives support from Easter Seals’ Champions for Children program. The program assists families who do not meet the eligibility requirements for the Katie Beckett Medicaid program. Nicholas the support he receives for medical supplies, medical co-pays, and this camp! “This is his favorite week of the summer. That includes our trip to the beach,” said Michele.


What do inclusive sports teach us?

It seems like it’s a childhood rite of passage – afternoon baseball practice, morning swim team practice, or Saturday morning soccer games. We all did it, and we have the awkward team picture to prove it. For children who have a disability or other special need, this should be a part of their childhood too.

The beauty of inclusive sports is that it’s just that – inclusive. This isn’t a team made of all participants with special needs. It reflects society. Children learn together, live together, and they should play together.

According to researchers from the University of California at Berkley, there are two profound effects of participating in inclusive sports. First, the physically challenged athlete can grow in her motor and social skills. The confidence she gains from playing a sport will benefit her social interactions at school. The second effect is that the typical peers grow in areas we do not always focus on – empathy and compassion. The authors note, “Typical peers learn how we all face challenges in our lives, disabled or not, and that part of being a good teammate is to use your specific skill set to help others become great. This continues to break down barriers and helps these typical players grow in their leadership, compassion, and making others great.”

Recently, I had the pleasure to meet two people who participate in sports in two very different ways but for the same reason. Scott Rigsby is the first double amputee to complete an Ironman World Championship in Konia, Hawaii. Grace Callahan is a 12-year-old who receives support from our Champions for Children program.

Scott Rigsby – paving the way for inclusion

scott rigsby photo

When I met Scott Rigsby, we talked about the importance of inclusive sports. As the first double amputee to finish the Ironman Triathlon, he knows a thing or two about it. He grew up in South Georgia playing football. After an accident had changed his life forever, his love for sports helped him physically and mentally. Yes, he could have competed at the Paralympic Games, but he chose to pave the road for all athletes.

His performance acts as a motivator not only for people with disabilities but also for able-bodied athletes. In fact, the number of participants who complete the 2.4-mile swim, 112-bike, and 26.2-mile run greatly increases when Scott competes. He sees this as an example of how everyone can benefit from inclusive sports. “People need to experience service. We live in a world where everyone needs help from someone. Kids need to learn that early, and inclusive sports is an excellent way to promote that,” he said.

Now, it’s not that he can just put on some shoes and go for a run. It’s an ordeal. He has specialized prosthetic legs that need adjusting throughout long runs. His legs rub against the prostheses and cause a lot of pain. When I ask him what motivates him, he responds his older brother who is deaf and physically and mentally disabled. “I am doing something that he could never do. When my skin is rubbed raw, I think of what he goes through every day.”

On a side note: His brother lives at an Easter Seals group home in Pelham, Ga.

Grace’s unstoppable heart

grace callahan photo

Grace’s nickname growing up was Amazing Grace. Her story is truly amazing. She was born on Easter Sunday 2003 and diagnosed with an enlarged heart at 11 days old. Almost seven years later, her heart was deteriorating very quickly, and she needed a heart transplant as soon as possible. The gift of a new, strong, and healthy heart on Easter Sunday 2010 let Grace live just as other little seven-year-old children, which included participating in sports.

While her surgery scar prevented her from contact sports or sparring, her parents encouraged her to participate in extracurricular activities – the more active, the better. Grace dabbled in karate, Tae Kwon Do, ballet, and gymnastics. Right now, she’s in her second season of lacrosse and is gearing up for her fifth summer swim season.

Grace plays with and competes against children of all abilities. She has a couple of accommodations, but nothing sets her too terribly apart from her peers. She needs to warm up and cool down more than her teammates and can overexert herself more easily. In fact, most of her lacrosse teammates do not know about her heart transplant.

Her parents see two primary benefits of Grace’s participation in sports: health and social. The aerobic activity helps her circulatory system, which can stave off coronary artery disease. Just as important, though, is that Grace doesn’t feel singled out for being different. She is a part of a team.

Participating in sports for Scott and Grace is more than an hour in the pool, it’s a chance to be just like everyone else – because they are.

2015 – A Year in Review at ESNG

In 2015, Easter Seals North Georgia experienced thrilling change, impactful partnerships, life-changing stories, a monumental anniversary and many inspiring milestones that will carry us into 2016 ready to support and educate more children with and without disabilities and their families. Join us!

*The following is listed in no particular order

  1. On May 26, ESNG President/CEO Donna Davidson was recognized by Easter Seals national with the Myrtle M. and Tom B. Medder’s Award at the 2015 Leadership Summit awards dinner in Chicago. Read more.

donna medder

2. STEM – The 2015-16 school year started off with a new project for our students at Brookvalley. Children ages three to five enrolled at the child development center are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics through a creative and hands-on curriculum. This first-of-its-kind program geared toward preschoolers will ensure they are on par with their peers as they enter kindergarten. ttt

3. The Clark and Ruby Baker Foundation graciously gifted us with a grant for the Champions for Children program. This program supports families who do not qualify for the Katie Beckett Waiver and face high medical bills. Read more about this program.


4. One of the strengths of ESNG is our partnerships. We are super excited about our newest one with the Marcus Autism Center. The prevalence of  autism spectrum disorder has greatly increased. Fortunately children who are diagnosed early and receive effective treatments early have been showing remarkable improvements. We are piloting a new screening tool that is proving to be more sensitive to identifying children with possible ASD diagnoses. Read more about our ASD program.
ESNG, Photo for Georgia Health Fdn - 5

5. The Georgia Health Foundation awarded us with a grant to expand our autism spectrum disorder program in metropolitan Atlanta and Northeast Georgia. Funds from this award will us provide evidence-based therapies to children in their homes. Therapies through the PLAY Project center around the child’s everyday activities and involve the entire family. Read more about our ASD program.

ESNG, Photo for Georgia Health Fdn - 2

6. Our biggest annual fundraiser, Trick or Treat Trot, was a huge success. Around 500 runners, walkers, families and supporters came out to the Infinite Energy Arena to help us raise funds and awareness for children with disabilities. Photos from the event.

7. Easter Seals North Georgia’s child development center at Sylvan Hills received the Sibley Award to fund a new project that engages families in their children’s education. Read more about our early education and care program.
Sibley Grant Award with Board and ELPM - cropped

8. Donna Davidson was named one of the top 50 nonprofit leaders in Atlanta in 2015 by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Donna ABC Instagram - Blank

9. Grandpa George Richardson was recognized on Veterans Day for his service. Our Foster Grandparent program is such a great way for seniors to stay involved in their community and, at the same time, children learn from seniors and all that they have to offer. Grandpa Richardson (one of the 100 seniors that volunteer at area child care centers) was recognized for his service to our country by Senator Loudermilk on Veterans Day. Read more about this program.

10. Last year we reflected on how far the country has come since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act 25 years ago. While we are still working to make improvements for the lives of so many Georgians with disabilities, we should also celebrate our accomplishments. Read moreada-twitter-icon-red

And one to grow on – Easter Seals has been serving residents of Georgia for 65 years – here’s to another successful year of raising disability awareness and educating and supporting our children so they will be successful in school and life.
Mansell Learning

Easter Seals Champions for All Children


When Edgar Allen founded Easter Seals in the early 1900s, the organization supported families whose children had special needs or disabilities – most notably children who had been stricken with polio. Now, Easter Seals North Georgia carries on the tradition of serving children with special needs and disabilities and their families through many programs, including early education, early intervention and support services. We have blogged about our early education and early intervention programs, but not about our support services….until now!

The Easter Seals Georgia Coalition began The Champions for Children program in 2008 to meet the needs of families who have medically fragile and special needs children.

While low-income families have access to government resources and wealthy families have their own financial means, middle – and even upper middle-income – families struggle to pay for all that is required to meet their children’s needs. Hence, not only is the child with the disability affected, but so is the family. Private insurance often does not cover all the services and supplies necessary to care for a child with exceptional needs, or the maximum benefits are depleted when the child is still very young. A national study reported that 40% of families of children with special health care needs experience a financial burden due to their child’s condition.

A child who has received a Level of Care denial from the Medicaid Waiver Program – Katie Beckett – is eligible for services through the Champions for Children Program. After the family completes an Individualized Family Care Plan, which prioritizes the needs of the child, the Program Coordinator works directly with them to identify providers or vendors for the needed services or supplies. The parents purchase those services, supplies and equipment noted on the IFSP and is reimbursed for those items up to $2,000 per child annually.

Ages of Children in Program: Birth to 18 years
Number Enrolled in Program: 300 across Georgia
Most Commonly Requested Services: Therapies, medications, medical supplies and medical services
Most Prevalent Diagnoses: Cerebral palsy, pervasive developmental disability and autism spectrum disorders

  • Have applied for Katie Beckett and received a level of care denial
  • Children up to the age of 18
  • Live at home
  • Have a physical, cognitive, developmental or medical disability

This description of service and facts are great and all, but let’s meet a child and her family who is supported by The Champions for Children program.


Neely – Generations of Easter Seals Support and Success

Stephanie and Lane Lawler struggled and sacrificed to provide the best level of support and care for their daughter, Neely, who has cerebral palsy.

They have successfully done so through job loss, financial devastation, medical scares and academic struggles. Through it all, though, they have remained steadfast in their commitment to their kids, family, church and community. Easter Seals North Georgia’s Champions for Children helps the Lawler’s with medical and therapy expenses. This program allows her family to breathe a little easier knowing that things will not be such a struggle financially. They can focus on Neely’s successes not her necessities.

“Champions for Children has done more for us than we could have ever imagined. Neely has cerebral palsy, but it does not define her. She is just a regular kid who loves to play, spend time with her grandfather and live life to its fullest. We would have never been able to afford the services we received without ESNG’s financial assistance,” said Stephanie

Neely’s grandfather was also a recipient of Easter Seals services when, sixty years ago, he was stricken with polio. He spent many years away from his family in hospitals and rehabilitation. Easter Seals supported his family then and now.

Check out other success stories here.
More information about Champions for Children can be found here.