By Carol Kinsley

When you hear “Easterseals,” you may think of the stamp-like seals used for fundraising by what began in 1919 as the National Society for Crippled Children. The campaign was so successful that the society itself was re-named “Easter Seals,” and more recently, “Easterseals.” 

Locally, what started as the Delaware Society for Crippled Children, a school in New Castle, became “Easterseals Delaware & Maryland’s Eastern Shore.” The nonprofit health care organization joined the national organization in 1948, and is one of 80 Easterseals affiliates nationwide today.

Conor is meeting milestones and thriving in life thanks to Easterseals Children’s Therapy program.

“This is a very exciting time for us,” said Pamela M. Reuther, chief operating officer of Easterseals Delaware & Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “In 2023, we will celebrate our 75th anniversary with the intent to create a much greater awareness of the many services offered by Easterseals across the lifespan. While March 24 is our actual anniversary, we are planning a year of activities calling attention to our mission to serve children and adults with disabilities and seniors.” On Oct. 19, 2023, the celebration will culminate at the organization’s annual gala. While Easterseals nationally and locally began with programs for children, Easterseals serves adults also.

Easterseals Delaware & Maryland’s Eastern Shore offers day programs to help individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities build life-skills to help them become more independent. It also has a “supported employment program” for those who want to work and be successful in a job in the community. Reuther said businesses such as Beebe Healthcare, Harris Teeter, Giant, Johnny Janosik and many restaurants, like Grotto’s Pizza, are among the statewide businesses that work with Easterseals to hire participants in the employment program.

Easterseals also was a leading advocate for the American Disabilities Act and, since its passage in 1990, has worked to ensure that all people are empowered to access their rights under the ADA.

“Easterseals has a rich history of advocacy. We advocate for our clients behalf with the state and federal government, to make sure their voices are heard,” Reuther said.

Easterseals affiliates nationwide provide essential services and on-the-ground supports to more than 1.5 million individuals and families each year, helping them live, learn, work and play in their communities. Reuther said locally, Easterseals reaches more than 34,000 individuals and their families annually. “We are the largest disability provider which serves children and adults from birth to the end of life, and one of the only agencies in the region that serves individuals with such a wide range of services throughout their lifespan.

“We try to develop programs and services to meet needs, regardless of age, keeping the caregiver in mind and supporting them. Last year in the region, we served more than 6,100 individuals through direct “hands on” services and more than 28,000 through indirect services such as education, training and referral.”

Easterseals Delaware & Maryland’s Eastern Shore has eight locations in Delaware — Newark, Smyrna, Dover, Georgetown, Milford and two in New Castle — and two in Maryland — Salisbury and Chestertown.

In all three Delaware counties and in Salisbury, Easterseals has a children’s therapy program, offering physical, speech and occupational therapy. Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy for children with autism is offered in Kent County and will soon be expanding. 

Adults, too, with acquired disabilities as a result of stroke, accident, head injury, Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis, need additional support so their families can keep working. Easterseals offers support in a day program with activities, meals, medication management and a nurse on site, so the family can get a break.

Easterseals also has a robust community outreach program for caregivers. Reuther said, “Families — spouses, parents, children of senior citizens — also need resources such as support groups and stress management classes. If they are not taken care of, they can’t care for others.”

Camp Fairlee is an Easterseals camp in Chestertown, Maryland, for children and adults with disabilities. Open through the summer, Camp Fairlee hopes to resume weekend respites also in 2023. While campers enjoy recreational activities and stay in modern and comfortable air conditioned, heated cabins with a nurse on site, families can have time off from constant care.

Another program, “Personal Attendant Services,” is specific to Delaware. “We are a fiscal intermediary, supporting families to hire their own attendants,” Reuther said. She explained, the PAS program allows people with disabilities and seniors to choose and hire their own personal attendant to perform duties based on individual needs. Specific examples may include help with bathing, dressing and meal preparation. While the person with the disability is the employer, Easterseals staff helps to support the program in their role as an employer of the caregiver.

“Often a family friend or neighbor is a good choice. We have found better care results from someone you trust and know. It’s a great program that really benefits this region —more than 3,000 families have benefited from just that program in the past year.”

Reuther took a temporary position at Easterseals as a physical therapist in 1994 to cover for another therapist’s maternity leave. Having previously worked with athletes, she was not sure about working with people with disabilities. She thought, “I’ll stay until I find something better.” She said she hasn’t found it yet. She harkened back to the words of Easterseals’ founder, Ohio-businessman Edgar Allen: “Your life is more valued not by what you take but what you give.” 

Allen lost his son in a streetcar accident in 1907. The lack of adequate medical services available to save his son prompted Allen to sell his business and begin a fundraising campaign to build a hospital in his hometown of Elyria, Ohio. Through this new hospital, Allen was surprised to learn that children with disabilities were often hidden from public view. He was inspired to make a difference, and he has.

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