Tuesday, July 31, 2012

CAMP JAKE :: Fun picture of the day

Shawn engaging in a stand-off outside Sonya's door!

CAMP JAKE :: Photo of the day

DeeDee and Marilene

JACOB'S FUND: Meet Brandon

Brandon and one of the many horses he cares for at McKenna Farms
Brandon, 17, found his forever family just two years ago. The family had started fostering children and were asked to take Brandon, then 15, for a single weekend. This polite and gentle boy impressed the family, including the couple’s two biological sons, who later signed up to be Brandon’s Secret Santa. The thank-you note they received was gracious, but ended with Brandon’s heart-breaking wish: “what I really want is a family.” 

Within a few weeks, Brandon became eligible for adoption and the family's youngest son said, “Well, let’s go get him.” The family proceeded with the adoption to make what they already felt legal and binding: Brandon would become their third son.

Early in life, Brandon had been diagnosed with speech problems. In his early years, he received help with speech at school. Although the aid faded away, Brandon’s needs didn’t.

Once adopted, his parents began pursuing help for the newest addition to their family. Thankfully, the Paulding County Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) suggested they contact McKenna Farms. Not long after in the summer of 2011, Brandon began speech therapy, working in one of the therapy rooms in the Civil-War era farmhouse.

Early in the summer of 2012, farm management asked Brandon if he’d like to volunteer on the farm. Working in the barn with the horses was a pivotal turning point for this young man. Now his speech therapist comes to the barn for therapy sessions where Brandon is happiest and does his best. He has been so successful as a volunteer that other children ask for him to be the helper during their therapy sessions.

Brandon is proud of his progress as well as his volunteerism and rightfully so. He has learned that he can contribute something valuable to the farm and other patients. He helps others without asking for anything in return and relishes in his new-found confidence.

With your help, Brandon will begin therapeutic riding sessions immediately. Brandon is glad to help others at the farm. Now Jacob’s Fund can let him know that others want to help him, too.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Camp Jake :: Fun picture of the day

Andy being Andy!
This is Jake's brother, Andrew. He is a fantastic musician and artist. A real keeper for Camp Jake in years to come.

Camp Jake :: Photo of the day

Caroline and Mackenson learning the art of Zentangle

Sunday, July 29, 2012

CAMP JAKE :: Photo of the day

Tom and Lovely

CAMP JAKE :: Fun picture of the day

Self-portrait of Danika and Kelly

Good Things Come in Pairs and in Threes

We’re thrilled to announce that Jacob’s Fund has begun supporting three new children at McKenna Farms in the greater Atlanta area! This is an outstanding opportunity and challenge for our small organization; we have never supported 3 children in the US at the same time. With your help, we know this endeavor will be a success!

We’d like you to meet each one—Cameron and Landon, and Brandon—to better understand why your help is so critical in their young lives. 

Today we'll focus on our pair, brothers Cameron and Landon. Tomorrow we'll meet Brandon. Be sure to check back for another story you'll want to hear about how The Red Thread is changing lives in the United States.

Meet Cameron and Landon, three-year old identical twins. These beautiful boys were just 18 months old when their mom noticed that some of Landon's behaviors seemed unusual, and scheduled an appointment with the boys' doctor. What followed was checkups, long waiting lists for appointments (up to six months!), denials from their insurance company, waiting another agonizing six months for an appointment—all the while saving money to pay for the consultation—until finally Landon was seen by a specialist. 

Two days before Christmas, the family received the diagnosis: Landon was autistic. A few months later, Cameron was diagnosed with the same disorder. The following summer, at a friend's barbecue, their mom learned about McKenna Farms. She contacted Jessica Moore, Executive Director at the farm, in search of therapy solutions for her sons. Thankfully, McKenna Farms was able to provide the occupational and speech services her young sons need. 

Before beginning therapy, Landon had a vocabulary of five words. After only five months of work with McKenna Farms’ therapists, he now proudly owns over 100 words! The boys have now progressed from the therapy rooms to hippotherapy on the backs of the farm’s gentle horses. They love their sessions on Sassy, a beautiful quarter horse.

The twins are making great strides. They can better communicate with their family and will be more prepared to tackle pre-school in the coming months. Doctors and therapists concur that both boys need to spend a total of 40 hours a week with therapy or involvement with other children in a normal setting so being prepared for pre-school is a must for these little guys. 

Their mom and dad are thrilled that the boys are achieving their short-term goals with the help of the specialists at McKenna Farms and the financial support of Jacob’s Fund. Their long-term goal is for each boy to gain the necessary life skills to live independently as an adult. In order to do so, the boys require therapy three times a week. 

While the family’s health insurance covers 80 per cent of the cost of occupational therapy, it does not cover speech therapy, as autism is not covered at all on their policy. Mom's job, of love and necessity, is caring for and keeping the twins' schedules. The cost of these sessions for a single-wage-earner home is staggering. While McKenna Farms is a non-profit facility, the cost for maintaining regular, consistent therapy is significant. We have an outstanding opportunity to help these children. 

Jacob’s Fund and The Red Thread Promise are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to their lives. We need your help to be able to meet their needs. Donations can be made by sending a check to the address on the top right or by clicking on our PayPal button. Please be sure to write "Jacob's Fund" in the memo line.

We thank you for your contribution to change lives like these precious boys.

CAMP JAKE :: Photo of the day

Jesula, a blind girl with the singing voice of an angel,
working on an art project, a 3D mask of her face

(photo by Howard Chen)

CAMP JAKE :: Fun photo of the day

Shawn after an exhausting afternoon of creating balloon creatures for campers

Saturday, July 28, 2012

CAMP JAKE :: Wondrous moments with Auguste

Sonya and Auguste enjoying the peaceful ocean (photo by Howard Chen)
CAMP JAKE / JULY 2012 :: Born without eyes and various other disabilities, Auguste is a handsome wheelchair-bound boy who required special attention throughout the week at Camp Jake. Although he came to Camp Jake with his own caregiver, Sonya—TRTP Vice President—spent a lot of time with him, talking, dancing, swimming and ensuring that he was involved in music at every opportunity.

Jake working with Auguste (photo by Howard Chen)
In the first days of camp, Jake—a Physicians For Peace physical therapist—evaluated Auguste in the pool to get a sense of his flexibility and potential for improvement over the week. Jake expertly maneuvered Auguste's limbs in every manner imaginable, moving from his small hands to arms to his curled up legs, using the soothing water to his advantage for these movements. After the evaluation, Jake handed off Auguste to Sonya and gave suggestions for her to work on straightening his legs that are usually in a tight bent position and ultimately trying to get him to put weight on his tiny legs.

Jake holding Auguste's feet in the pool (photo by Howard Chen)

Sonya exercised his legs for quite some time as Jake had suggested and slowly moved him through the water to a more shallow spot. Holding him under his arms around the chest, she encouraged him to put weight on his legs. To everyone's surprise, he did it—Auguste stood up in the water! Using Sonya as a stabilizer, he stood for at least 20 minutes in the pool that day. 

Little did we know that no one at St. Vincent's had ever seen Auguste stand! Although therapists had been working with him for years, they weren't even sure he was capable.

A group of deaf girls caught sight of this small but very significant feat. They started signing to one another saying "Hey, look at that!" Laura signed back "Yes, we hope to have him standing on both feet by the end of the week" to which they responded "No way!" Then "Very cool!" 

Another evening, Auguste was sitting alone after dinner. Freshly fed, his caregiver was helping another child so Sonya went over to him, stood by his wheelchair and began speaking to him. Auguste quickly wrapped his thin arms around Sonya's neck and STOOD UP on his own two feet, all by himself! 

Someone cried "Look at Auguste!" and the entire dining room turned and gasped. No one could believe what they were seeing! He stood again for more that 15 min that evening.

Auguste nearly jumped into Sonya's arms in one amazing moment
Later on in the week, Auguste began calling Sonya by name and asking to stand up by pulling up on her waist or neck. He stood in the pool, the ocean and on the pavement. On the final day of camp, before getting on the bus, he even said "I love you" in English and Kreyol. 

What a wondrous week with an extraordinary human being. We are so glad to be a part of this young man's life. It is our hope that he will continue to stand at St. Vincent's. Who knows? Maybe at the next camp we can help him WALK!

Auguste saying "hi" with his hands
Diana looking on at little Auguste on his own two feet

Friday, July 27, 2012

CAMP JAKE :: Photo of the day

Judith, a teen with severe scoliosis, having the time of her life in the pool
(photo by Howard Chen)

CAMP JAKE :: Fun photo of the day

One of many hilarious moments at Camp Jake!
Marilene was having "bathing suit issues" and
Gregory was "helping" her stay modest!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

CAMP JAKE :: Photo of the day

Ana showing love to the campers
(photo by Howard Chen)

Camp Jake : : RYLA youth making a difference

Shawn hugging Frenel during our visit to St. Vincent's
(Photo by Howard Chen)
Each year, young people from Louisiana and Mississippi take part in Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA). Participants are chosen for their potential as leaders and attend an all-expenses-paid seminar/camp to discuss and cultivate their own leadership skills. These participants are responsible for raising money for a specific charitable cause. 

This is the second year that our own Camp Jake has been selected as RYLA's charity of choice. We are excited to share that the 2012 delegation of 70 RYLA youth—the largest in its history—raised $12,500 for The Red Thread Promise, far exceeding their goal. We are thrilled and humbled by these young people's enthusiasm and dedication to helping others. Through the stories shared on our blog and by the voices of our counselors, we hope that these youth understand how big of an impact their fundraising efforts are making on disabled children in Haiti.

On hand to speak to the group at RYLA's 20th anniversary celebration were:
  • Tom Landry, Camp Jake Founder and Director
  • Shawn Richard, uncle to Jake (Camp namesake) and July :: 2012 counselor
  • Matt Ward, January :: 2012 counselor and July :: 2012 Assistant Camp Director
Over 200 people gathered at the Audubon Tea Room in New Orleans to celebrate and learn more about the most recent session of Camp Jake. Shawn spoke to the group about the inception of Camp Jake as well as the impact on the campers from St. Vincent's Center for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince who attended. Proceeds from the evening will also benefit Camp Jake in addition to their more than generous donation.

Special thanks to Lisa Flair, outgoing RYLA Director for the past 20 years and Hope Wright, the incoming Director for their work with Tom and The Red Thread Promise. We look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with this dynamic organization.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

CAMP JAKE :: Oxilus - an ocean moment

Oxilus AKA FreeBird

CAMP JAKE / JULY 2012 :: Sweet 6 year old Oxilus is a spitfire. He had only been at St. Vincent's for a handful of days before joining us for the January session. Being deaf, you can't just call out to him if he runs away - you have to either get his attention or run faster! After being at St. Vincent's for the 6 months, he has mellowed out, but only a bit. His energy level is through the roof for such a tiny little guy. 

At the beginning of the week, FreeBird refused to get in the water , but it didn't take too long for counselors and other campers to encourage him to embrace both the pool and the ocean. We are SO glad he did!

During these water excursions, he learned that both balloons and balls float and both can be used as flotation devices for his petite frame. These were fascinating discoveries for him. The team blew up HUGE long balloons which he held onto like a water noodle, leaning over with the balloon across this chest, tucked under his armpits. Under close supervision, he floated independently in the ocean, allowing the current to push and pull him through the water. The look of fascination combined with satisfaction on his face was priceless.

Just one of many great moments at Camp Jake.

CAMP JAKE :: Lessons learned, part 4

Casey holding FreeBird

CAMP JAKE / JULY 2012 :: After countless exhausting hours running from place to place during the first session, the Camp Jake team put a set of walkie talkies at the top of our wish list for the July camp. Thankfully, a few weeks before our departure, a gift of 16 walkie talkies arrived at our doorstep compliments of Kathleen in California. These handy devices were put to good use, saving 1,000s of steps, but will be remembered as the source of much laughter.

The first hours following the counselors' walkie talkie training session were hilarious! We wanted to make sure everyone understood how to use the devices and encouraged practicing, which took a very comical turn. Everyone was coming up with code names for one another and using every movie or TV cliché that referenced a radio of any sort. Hearing "10-4 good buddy" and "Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?" was a common occurance. (Can you site the sources?)

As camp progressed, more permanent code names were adopted for some campers and counselors, including:
  • Tom (Camp Director) AKA "Toma"
  • DeeDee AKA "Cooter"
  • Jake (physical therapist) AKA "GI Jake"
  • Ana (from Columbia) AKA "Columbia" 
  • Markenson, Elisme, Evans (blind) AKA "The Three Amigos"
  • Elisme AKA "Monsieur Oui"
FreeBird sporting his new tattoo

And of course, there was Oxilus, a rambunctious 6 year old deaf child who ran circles around us every day of camp. He was the most challenging to keep track of and was appropriately dubbed "FreeBird". 

Common phrases heard at any given time over the walkies:
"Has there been a FreeBird sighting?"
"I've got a visual on FreeBird!"

Camp Jake : : Playing in the Pool

Photo by Howard Chen

Photo by Howard Chen

Photo by Howard Chen

Photo by Howard Chen

Photo by Howard Chen

Photo by Howard Chen

Camp Jake : : We Love the Ocean

Photo by Howard Chen

Photo by Howard Chen

Camp Jake : : Our Young Campers

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Campers need your support

Fr. Sadoni and a group of Camp Jake campers
People often ask how they can help bring this experience alive for the kids with handicaps in Haiti. The answer is simple: we need your financial support. In order to provide this life-changing camp, we need to transport, house and feed both the campers and our talented counselors, provide water gear, musical instruments, art supplies, sports equipment, snacks, a large medical kit and many other items each time we host camp. Thankfully, our startup costs are getting lower and lower. With each camp, we purchase more of the supplies that will be used year after year and will continue to do so until we have a sufficient supply of camp materials, after which we will only need to be concerned about transport, lodging and food.

We are still accepting donations toward the July session of Camp Jake to offset the cost of the camp. All gifts are tax deductible. If you are interested, please send a check to the address at the top right or click on the PayPal button on the right. Be sure to put "Camp Jake" in the memo line.

Thank you for your continued support!

CAMP JAKE :: The healing sea

The mere sight of the vast, seemingly endless ocean can bring an onslaught of emotions:
  • Fear
  • Excitement
  • Apprehension
  • Fascination
  • Nervousness
  • Bliss
Most everyone can identify with one of these. The Red Thread Promise's Camp Jake campers and counselors are no exception. 

Some speed across the sand, stopping at the rocky berm before the sea to tear off their sandals and wait for the counselors to set the perimeter in the water. It is immediately clear that they can't wait to dive in. When the lifeguard gives a thumbs up, they are the first ones to take the plunge. This group usually consists of the deaf and hearing impaired, a spunky ensemble with a vibrancy and lust for life that is contagious. While not fearless, they are more than willing to explore the ocean, both above and below the water, on the rocks, swimming on someone's back and everything in between.

Casey with a group of blind campers exploring the sounds,
smells and textures of the ocean
Others move at a slower pace, taking in the beauty of the beach and the surging water: the smells, the textures, the breeze on their faces, the anticipation. These are the ones that dip their toes in the water to determine the temperature and decide if they will sit in the surf or go in with a counselor. This is especially true of the blind. With a glance you can see that they are like human sponges, absorbing the unfamiliar surroundings, from the sand beneath their toes, to the smooth rocks, to the salty water and the algae covered rocks. Some are independent, allowing their hands and feet to guide them through the water. Others will only enter holding the hands of a counselor who leads them through the gentle waves.

Casey and DeeDee bringing Diana to the ocean
Christina, a wheelchair-bound camper, and Gregory
Our empathy for those with prosthetics or wheelchairs runs deep as they are the ones most dependent on the counselors for this meaningful experience. Those who are able, propel themselves to the end of the walkway on the beach and then patiently wait for someone to push them to the edge of the rocks. The more mature ones take time to reflect on the ocean before make a commitment whether or not to come in, while the younger ones soak in all of the excitement and movement around them. A counselor invites each into the water, and if accepted, lifts them up and trudges through the rocks to the water's edge. Some sit in the surf, letting the water gently lap against their bodies, soothing their skin. Others want to embrace the water in a whole body experience, allowing a counselor to glide their body through the salty water. This feeling of weightlessness is overwhelming for some, being one of the only times in their life where they can move without the weight of a wheelchair beneath them or arms holding them.

Regardless of ability, going to the ocean is beneficial for everyone, from the most physically active to those with the most challenges. From the fresh air, to a refreshing breeze, camaraderie among friends, moving out of the usual comfort zone, trying something new and trusting the counselors—going to the beach is one of the most beneficial parts of Camp Jake. We invite you to be a part of it today by donating to The Red Thread Promise. 

We are still accepting donations toward the July session of Camp Jake to offset the cost of the camp. All gifts are tax deductible. If you are interested, please send a check to the address at the top right or click on the PayPal button on the right. Be sure to put "Camp Jake" in the memo line.

Shawn floating with Auguste