Monday, October 31, 2016

Costume inclusion

Kids and Halloween go together. During my years as a pediatric physical therapist, our kids with special needs were included in Halloween celebrations but their bulky equipment made costumes a challenge.

Creative parents and teachers are figuring out ways to incorporate kids' mobility aids (and in one case, a service dog!) right into the costume. Here are some super cute ones.

Some charities now work with families to customize a costume for a kid with special needs. Magic Wheelchair is a non-profit founded by man whose own 3 children have spinal muscular atrophy, so he completely understands a child's need to combine safety and fun. At Oskaloosa Academy in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, art students have used their skills to create awesome costumes for today's celebrations. 
Another way kids with special needs get to be kids first, with their needs integrated right into their day. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

One mother's plea, 150 + responses

Deborah Skouson's daughter Cami had a favorite shirt, a pink short-sleeved shirt with flowers made by Circo. Cami loved that shirt and wore it nearly every day, as happens sometimes in autism. Like all clothing, it wore out. Deborah bought another and another. Eventually, the shirt was no longer carried in her local stores. She felt fortunate to find them online, but after a while even that supply dried up. 

Desperate, Deborah turned to Facebook and posted this plea

The story went viral.   

Within a couple weeks, over 150 shirts had been promised or had arrived at the Utah family's home. Most were from total strangers from as far away as Germany.

In addition, Target, the store chain where Deborah first found the shirt, has promised to make the shirt in various sizes so Cami can enjoy wearing it for years to come.                                                                                                                  

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A kind-hearted boy in New Mexico inspires a good deed in Iowa

When Josette Duran's son asked her to pack two lunches to take to his Albuquerque elementary school, she asked him why. It seems a friend had only a fruit cup in his lunch box each day, and Dylan felt bad for him. So did Josette. She and Dylan had faced some hard times themselves, and she was more than happy to share what they had.

Within a few weeks, the school principal got wind of this lunch-sharing setup, as did the mother of the other child. She offered to pay Josette for the lunches, which she graciously refused. The girls' volleyball team raised money to pay back Josette. She donated the money to pay overdue lunch fees at the school.

Josette shared the story via a Facebook Live feed. It went viral.

Jerry Fenton in Burlington Iowa saw the video. He was so moved by the example set by Dylan and Josette that he decided to act. He contacted his alma mater, Grimes Elementary School, and discovered that over $450 was owed in unpaid lunch fees. He paid that off and donated extra to offset future expenses.

A New Mexico boy with a kind heart has done more than feed his friend. He helped feed kids in two communities a thousand miles apart.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Her one wish was to give

Thirteen-year-old Emma Allred has seen her share of health problems. At age 10, she was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. She's had three surgeries so far, with a fourth coming up soon. 

Other teens might feel sorry for themselves. Not Emma.

When she learned she'd been granted a wish by Make-A-Wish, she knew what she'd ask for - a chance to help others. Emma said her wish was to feed the homeless. And the collection of this massive amount of food should be fun. Her community came out to support her, and the result was a dream come true. 

A park near Emma's home in Twin Falls, Idaho was the chosen site. Make-A-Wish supplied face painting artists, popcorn, and cotton candy for the events' participants. They also donated individual bags for the homeless, each containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, blanket, and sleeping bag according to Inside Edition. A local grocery chain donated a truckload of food. Individuals and fire departments donated hundreds of boxes of non-perishables. In all, over 13,000 pounds of food was given in honor of Emma's selfless wish. All will be given to local food pantries. 

Brenda Vogt,director of program services for Idaho's Make-A-Wish told KMVT News, "It's incredibly unique and we are so thrilled that somebody is as kind and generous as Emma to want to give to others instead of have the wish granted for herself." 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How coffee and kindness got Kyle Bigler a car

Joanne Griffiths has 10 kids. Ten! I'm amazed she can find time to brush her teeth, never mind think about other people's needs. But that's exactly what she did.

Kyle Bigler was a familiar, friendly face at the New Hampshire Dunkin' Donuts drive-through, and he handed Griffiths her coffee early one morning. On her way to work mid-afternoon, she noticed Bigler walking along the road. Just before 11 that same night, Griffiths saw Bigler a third time, working the graveyard shift at a local gas station. She offered him a ride home, which he declined. She discovered Bigler had been walking to both minimum-wage jobs, a trek of about 16 miles a day.

Yes, this young man walked six hours to these two jobs and had done so for about a year. He felt that his learning disability and speech impediment gave him few work options. "No places close to me would hire me and Dunkin' Donuts in Belmont did, so I took it and said I'd walk to work and work for them every day," he told TODAY.

Griffiths was amazed by Bigler's work ethic. She snapped a photo of him at the drive-through and shared his story on Facebook. It went viral.

Among the comments on Griffiths' post were offers of help for Biglin in terms of money and jobs. Autoserv Tilton, a local car dealership, offered another solution - a car.

“I was touched by Kyle’s work ethic and perseverance even when times were tough,” Ryan Parks, sales manager at AutoServ of Tilton ― which donated the car to Bigler ― told The Huffington Post. “I feel like that’s something we don’t see as much nowadays when I compare my generation to my parents’ or my grandparents’ and it was really refreshing to see that.”

Biglin will have to learn to drive and pass his driver's test, but he is overwhelmed and excited. Not only do these wheels mean he can drive to work, they also give him a way to visit with his 3-year-old son Steven who lives with his mother over 3 hours away. 

"Meeting Kyle has humbled me and made me more grateful for what I have." Griffiths tells PEOPLE. “Everyone struggles in life. All that matters is how you respond to the struggle and persevere.”

Monday, October 17, 2016

The power of dance

Vania Deonizio loves to dance. She's sharing that love with kids who are hospitalized or chronically ill through a program called Dancin Power based in Oakland California. This uplifting program gives free dance lessons right in the hospital, adapting the movement to accommodate the kids' restrictions. The non-profit organization believes that everyone can dance! The kids agree.

Dancin Power got its start in 2006. Typically, the bright, energetic dances focus on Hula, traditional Brazilian dance, and hip hop, full of spirited music and fun movements. Classes may be held in the patients’ hospital rooms, in groups or individually. If the child has a low immune system or other frailties, the dance instructors may wear masks, gown, and gloves to the bedside and deliver the lesson right there.

Loved ones are welcome to join in. "By having the whole family, and at times their doctors and nurses too participating, we create community, a very supportive and fun one,” Deonizio said. She loves to see the child's laughter and joy come out through participating in the program.

“For that moment, the patients and their families are able to interact with one another in a non-medical way,” Deonizio told The Huffington Post in an email. “They are laughing, learning something new, having a good time, feeling happy together!”

The doctors and hospital staff are thrilled with the program. Dance, in whatever form is medically safe for the child, improves muscle strength, endurance, and mobility. Plus it boosts the child's mood through the sheer joy of self-expression.

Deonizio feels the benefit too. “Every time I teach I learn something new from my students/patients,” she told HuffPost, “...being completely present, appreciate the moment, have gratitude and never give up.”

Friday, October 14, 2016

An expo, a reading, a photo shoot, and a book fest - in the next 8 days!

I'm buckled up and ready to go.
Tomorrow, Saturday October 15th, I'll be at the York Book Expo sharing a table with Michael Rausch. He's the cover designer for Risking Exposure and the illustrator of Mikey and the Swamp Monster. We'll have copies of the books ready to inscribe, plus activities for the kids and props from my historical research. I hope to connect with lots of new readers!

Tuesday October 18th, I'll be joined by Jeff Leeser, a photographer from Advance for Physical Therapists. They're running an article of mine as their cover story (!) in late November, and Jeff is going to shoot me in my writing area, and possibly a park. Then we're heading over to a Lancaster cafe/bookshop, The Rabbit and Dragonfly. Jeff arranged for me to do a reading there and share some about my writing and research processes. The friendly folks at The Rabbit and Dragonfly were all about it - just as warm and supportive as can be.

Next Friday and Saturday the 21st and 22nd, Michael Rausch and I will again share a table, this time at Celebrate the Book in Carlisle. We'll again have books to inscribe and activities to share, so stop by if you're in the neighborhood.

Good fun! I'll post some pics from the events here or on my website.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The toy smuggler

Rami Adham was saddened by the news of civil war in his homeland of Syria. He was understandably worried about the well-being of those not fortunate enough to now live as he did, in the safety of Helsinki, Finland.
So 44-year old Adham decided to act. Five years ago, he developed a plan to carry food and supplies across the border himself. His daughter Yasmeen, then 3 years old, wanted to help. She added some of her dolls to his bundle. His other children joined in the generosity, donating some of their toys and stuffed animals. 
So off Adham went, slipping across borders and walking for miles carrying plastic bags full of food and cash, plus a grocery bag of his children's Barbies and a suitcase of stuffed toys. Traveling 3,000 miles at his own expense and at the risk of his own safety, he arrived at a refugee camp in Syria.
The donated food and money didn't impress the kids. Oh, but the toys...

Adham told NBC News, "Their eyes were big, everybody was smiling. Kids there have lost their childhood, and not for a year: This is the sixth year now and it seems like everybody forgot them."
Adham has now made two dozen trips to Syria. With the help of the Finnish Syrian Association, donated toys from across Europe are now shared in over 400 orphanages in Syria. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Helping neighbors through the hurricane

Dave Barnhart's one-story home in Tequesta, Florida had no shutters. He and his wife and two children intended to ride out Hurricane Matthew at home.

According to the Palm Beach Post, his neighbors had something else in mind. Mike McDermott offered some wood. So did Chris Basara and Chris Gunn. The three brought the wood and power tools needed to board up the dozen windows on the Barnharts' cinder block house.

The team ran out of plywood. As expected just before the storm hit, store shelves were empty. Another neighbor heard about the problem and offered the wooden platform for her adult children's model train set. That became the colorful shutter shown here. 

With just one window left, the team again ran out of plywood. Barnhart found an old fence door and used that to cover the last window.

Barnhart and his family were safe through the storm. To thank these incredible neighbors, they held a post-hurricane party on Friday night.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

He gave away his winnings - to his opponent

Most mixed martial arts fighters don't make a lot of money at their sport. They usually work part-time jobs to pay the bills while they train and compete and hope to make it big.

Bantamweight John Castaneda was asked by Combate Americas officials to take an August 11th fight against Angel Cruz. Cruz's original opponent had cancelled on short notice, which would leave Cruz without a chance to compete at the highly regarded Los Angeles event. 
Castaneda didn't need the competition. He already had a shot at the Combate bantamweight title, and a fight with Cruz would put that at risk. Knowing he was in shape, Castaneda decided to take the fight anyway. 
After the weigh-in, Cruz thanked Castaneda for taking the fight because it gave him a chance to feed his family. Castaneda also met Cruz's two young daughters. He told Yahoo News, "That really hit home to me. This is real. This is life. He’s doing this because he has to in order to support his family."
Castaneda won the fight in a TKO, earning him a $2000 bonus. Immediately, he told Campbell McLaren, the head of Combate America, to give Cruz the bonus money. 
“It really choked me up,” McLaren said. “I’d never encountered anything like that. MMA is a very charitable sport and you see fighters starting GoFund Me pages to help each other a lot. But this was a little different situation and it was so impressive. This came in the heat of the battle after a very tough fight.”

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Final hours for the giveaway!

There are still a few hours left on the Goodreads giveaway of my new picture book Mikey and the Swamp Monster. Five print copies are up for grabs, and yes, books will be personalized for your favorite little monster if you'd like.

Can't win unless you enter, so give it a try!