Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Caston's Story

Caston with his mom, Teal, after attending a
 Parent and Me class at
Blind Children's Learning Center

When Caston was born, doctors questioned what my child would be able to do and told me not to be optimistic.  The specialists and therapists at Blind Children’s Learning Center saw his potential.  They are passionate about helping children.  They gave us hope,” said Teal.

Caston’s family has much to celebrate this holiday season.  Their two- year-old little boy has accomplished great feats in the past nine months, thanks to Blind Children’s Learning Center.

At six months old Caston was diagnosed with Optic Nerve Hypoplasia (ONH), a congenital condition characterized by the underdevelopment of the optic nerve and the brain.  Teal and Chaz, Caston’s parents, described their little one as gazing upward, not responsive and his body was tense.  “He was like a tight baby ball.”

Caston’s family needed help. Providing early intervention to children with ONH is critical.  Their brains are still in the process of re-wiring and reconnecting.  With the help of their family Teal, Chaz and Caston relocated from across the country so Caston could attend the Center. 

The family’s adventure began:
  • · Blind Children’s Learning Center staff worked closely with Teal and Chaz in their home, answering their questions and helping them through the challenges. 
  • ·Therapists worked with Caston to help him learn to position his body and taught him to sit up. They worked on his sensory and feeding issues. 
  • ·Caston was introduced to a light box and other assessment toys which stimulated his vision.  
  • ·Teal and Caston started attending “Parent and Me” classes at Blind Children’s Learning Center and share a common bond with other families served by the Center.

After just nine months of early intervention for his visual impairment, Caston is no longer limited.  He’s learned to track people’s movements.  His little tight body has relaxed.  He stretches and reaches out with his hands open.  Soon Caston will be entering our Early Childhood Center onsite preschool.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Special Honors for Board Member Peggy Blaising

As Blind Children’s Learning Center celebrates 50 years of serving blind, visually impaired and deaf/blind children we also celebrate the countless volunteers that generously give of their most valuable asset – their time – to support the Center. 

One “illuminating force” is Peggy Blaising.  For the past 25 years Peggy has served on the board of directors of Blind Children’s Learning Center.  She has led the Parent Professional Advisory Council in addition to helping direct new program initiatives.   Peggy is a strong fundraiser and has raised thousands of dollars for the Center.  Through the years personally she has donated more than $45,000. 

Peggy doesn’t limit her volunteer work to administration.  She has served as a volunteer Teacher’s Assistant in the classrooms. She is deeply admired and respected by the staff of Blind Children’s Learning Center. 

“I have worked with Peggy since 1989.  She was a Special Education teacher and gave that wonderful professional input as a board member.  When we first moved to Vanderlip Avenue her class was next door at Guin Foss Elementary School.  She would bring her students over to “mentor” our children - - what a wonderful role model she is for any teacher.  As a volunteer in the classroom, her love for the school, the children and the families just emanates from her. Through thick and thin, she always has such a wonderful positive approach to everything.  It is an honor to know her.  Her leadership in the community and in her church is such a benefit for all connected with Blind Children’s Learning Center. “– Kathy Goodspeed, Former Early Childhood Center Director 1989 - 2007

“I’ve known Peggy since she first came to Blind Children’s Learning Center.  Her love for the children has always been in the forefront.  She has supported the Center with her service in the classroom, on the program committee and on the board through the good times and the bad.  Her strong faith shines in all she does. It’s been a pleasure knowing her all these years.” - Linn Morgan, Former Director of Community Relations 1977-2009

“I have many fun memories of Peggy when she volunteered in my classroom.  Especially our adventures in the Center’s 12-seater van we called the “beast.”  When we took the kids on field trips, Peggy would sit in the back to help with the children.  It never failed, when Peggy was sitting in the back of the van we would always hit every bump or dip in the road (of course it wasn’t my driving) that would send her popping up in her seat almost into the roof of the van.  We shared many laughs over those adventures.   Peggy was a dependable volunteer and I appreciated her willingness to share her expertise.”  - Elayne Strong., Former Director of Youth Outreach 1991-2007

“Together in 1987, Peggy and I began our journey at Blind Children’s Learning Center.  As a special education teacher her love for our children was very apparent.  I admire her patience and dedication.  I loved to watch her interact with our children.  She is an incredible member of our board and has been instrumental in keeping the Center’s mission alive.  Her knowledge of the nonprofit world is extensive and she brings this expertise to our Center.  She is a true friend and an outstanding asset to our Center.” – Sharon Mitchael  Former Coordinator of Youth Services 1987-2011

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Interveners Connect Children Who Are Deaf-Blind to the World

Did you know for a typical child with the ability to see and hear, the largest part of their learning process occurs naturally from the flow of sensory information?   Next they learn from listening to another person teach or watching an individual present information.  The smallest part of their learning comes from hands-on experiences. 

For a child who is deaf-blind, the process is completely inverted.  The major part of their learning is from direct hands-on experiences.  Being unable to hear and see eliminates a major source of sensory information.  Since most educational settings are not designed to provide intensive direct, hands-on learning this poses a unique challenge. 
At Blind Children’s Learning Center, we are able to provide this distinctive environment for children who are deaf-blind because of the talent and expertise of staff member, Tricia Houlihan.  Tricia is one of the first individuals in the state of California to have the role of an intervener for children who are deaf-blind.  She has created a program at the Center that has become a model across the state. 
Tricia has had the opportunity to share her knowledge at the California Transcribers and Educators for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CTEBVI) conferences and to train many teachers, specialists and Para educators who were referred to her by California Deaf-Blind Services. 

However, Tricia will tell you that her greatest fulfillment has been working with the children directly.  The following is a story Tricia shared.
“One of my most memorable students was a little boy whom I had worked with from ages two to six.  His mother brought him from Korea to the United States for an eye surgery that was unsuccessful.  They were referred to Blind Children’s Learning Center where we discovered his hearing loss. 
Immediately, we incorporated a total communication system into his day.  I was diligent in facilitating his system for him and was fortunate to witness the incredible change.  He went from a very frightened little boy who wanted to rock and have his mother hold him constantly, to a very sociable child eager to explore and get to know his world.  At the age of five, we discovered that he was eligible for a cochlear implant which would enable him to hear for the first time.  He became the first five-year-old deaf-blind child to receive an implant at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

I had the amazing opportunity to witness him hear his mother’s voice for the first time. It was a humbling experience I’ll never forget.
Three years ago, he came by to visit the Center.  He was still going through auditory verbal training, so he was not quite speaking yet.  But it was obvious that he remembered his time at the Center and I knew he remembered me by the enormous smile and hug I received.   

Wonderful experiences like this have caused me to focus my efforts to continue improving my skills as an intervener so I can continue to help children who are deaf-blind connect with their environment.”

Thursday, April 5, 2012

AmeriCorps VIP Fellows Visit Blind Children's Learning Center!

VIP Fellows Luis Alberto and Nancy Govea getting in some sand box time!
To celebrate AmeriCorps week, which was celebrated by AmeriCorps members around the country March 12-16, the ten VIP Fellows placed in Orange County joined Miriam Levine, the current Fellow at Blind Children’s Learning Center, in volunteering with our students for a fun-filled morning. Participating in All School Music, recess and assisting with lunch, the Fellows were an instant hit! Although only slotted to spend two hours here, the Fellows had to be dragged away after three. 

Luis Alberto enjoying recess!

Luis Alberto, placed at The Boys and Girls Club of Tustin, explained, “The kids were very loving and welcoming, making it a lot more difficult to leave. The best part is making the kids smile. When that happens, it feels like the sun is coming out, shinning on everyone and letting them know it’s going to be OK. There was one particular boy who got really attached, making it impossible to leave with his "why" questions. I had an amazing time and wished I could of seen more the kid’s daily interactions and be a lot more involved. It just means I have to come back and volunteer in the future."
No shortage of smiles for
Nancy Govea!

Nancy Govea, placed at the Orange County Rescue Mission: Village of Hope in Tustin, shared, “There is nothing more precious in this world than an honest hug or a smile full of love from a child. My soul could not sustain the joy that these children gave me." 

Joanne Lin and a student
rocking the seesaw!
When asked about her experience working with one of our Kindergarten students, Joanne Lin, placed at the Harvest Club in Huntington Beach, said, "[The student] is six. She is spunky, funny, and fiercely independent. She made up an imaginary spice, 'friggle,' and sprinkled it over her lunch of sausage and rice. She giggled when I exclaimed she put in too much. After a mere five minutes, I forgot she is visually impaired. It's inspiring to learn that these kids may need help, but they are definitely not helpless."

In a time when it is easy to see what is wrong with the world, but hard to know what to do about it, Blind Children’s Learning Center was proud to host these individuals, who are, as the AmeriCorps slogan says, “getting things done for America.”

Steele Willison grabs
one more hug! 

In fact, AmeriCorps members have been getting things done since 1993. Formally created under President Clinton’s National and Community Service Trust Act, AmeriCorps is comprised of three national service programs that engage Americans in intensive service to meet the nation’s critical needs in education, public safety, health and the environment. Through the State and National, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), and NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) programs, over 80,000 men and women each year participate in intensive service to address education, poverty, health, disaster relief, and other critical issues, while mobilizing nearly 3 million volunteers for the organizations they serve. Since its creation in 1993, more than 775,000 individuals have served in AmeriCorps, providing more than 1 billion hours of service.

Kelli Norris is all smiles
during lunch!
This year there are more than 8,500 AmeriCorps members serving in communities across California, over 170 of which are participating in the CalSERVES Volunteer Infrastructure Project (VIP). Created in 2009, VIP Fellows are placed in nonprofits and community organizations, specifically focused on providing services to children and their families, to develop volunteer programs, and engage community members looking to do direct service to their communities. Through the management of OneOC (formerly Volunteer Center Orange County), there are currently ten Fellows placed in nine nonprofits around Orange County, including one right here at Blind Children’s Learning Center.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Blind Children's Learning Center Was the Right Fit for Our Family

     Tahira Knight-Zaluske treasures her role as a mother.  Her daughter, four-year-old Xia, is her miracle.  Born with cerebral palsy and legally blind she is a little bundle of joy.  Xia is very social and extremely expressive.  If you have the opportunity to meet Xia you’ll quickly discover she demands face to face contact, which you instantly give her because she charms you with her fabulous smile and contagious laugh.     
    Xia loves her class in the Early Childhood Center program.  Tahira shared,”Xia squeals with delight when she knows she’s going to the Center. The interactions with her classmates and teachers have made her stronger. “
     Although doctors’ diagnosis for Xia have been that she will be totally dependent, Tahira and her husband Walter want their daughter to experience life.  Still very protective parents they are cautious.  Their first encounter with Blind Children’s Learning Center was in the safety of their home through the Infant Family Focus program.  Next they ventured out participating in the on-site Parent and Me classes held every Friday in the Therapy Services Center. 
    “I’d received high recommendations for Blind Children’s Learning Center from many sources.  After attending the on-site classes I knew the Center was a right fit for our family,” said Tahira.  “Any fears we had were relieved by the amazing calmness I witnessed by the teachers and staff.  Everyone was loving, kind and generous.  Walter and I felt secure in our decision.” 
     Xia now attends preschool classes daily and receives Occupational, Speech and Vision therapies all on site at the Center.  It could be overwhelming for a parent to schedule and transport their child to multiple locations for all the services their child may need.  Having everything at the Center relieves a tremendous amount of pressure for parents.
     “We are so grateful for the team work of all the staff at the Blind Children’s Learning Center.  Everyone goes above and beyond to support our family,” expressed Tahira.
     Tahira goes above and beyond in support of Blind Children’s Learning Center.  She has recently joined the Parents and Professional Advisory Council (PPAC) and is leading the fundraising for Team XYZ at the 8th Annual Destination → Independence 5K Walk on Saturday, May 19.  If you’d like to support Tahira’s efforts click here to donate to Team XYZ.

Read more about Tahira and Xia in the Orange County Register.