ADDRESS: 350 Braden Ave., Sarasota, FL 34243 PHONE: (941) 355-7637 FAX: (941) 358-3069 Office Hours: 7:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Easterseals Happiness House Update from Tom Waters (4/8/20)

We move forward under “stay at home” orders …

With the new declaration imposed over all of Florida, our priority is as it always has been: To ensure the safety of our clients and staff.

That said, how does an organization change its delivery method in two weeks? The same way its stayed open for the last 74 years … with great respect for the past and dedicated commitment to the future.

The challenges are immense. Not all offerings readily transfer to a virtual world. There are great benefits to face-to-face contact between clients and therapists. Behavioral issues like those many of our clients live with – especially those on the spectrum – are compounded by disruption in routine. Nearly 70 percent of the population we serve live at or below the poverty line and devices used to access technology are not always readily available, leaving online opportunities out of reach for too many.

The bumps in the road sometimes seem endless, but so too is our resolve. As this situation unfolded, our team set a course to serve in the safest, smartest and most effective way possible. Last week’s efforts resulted in the launching of five at-home programming opportunities to our families.

Teletherapy: After training and planning, our therapy team launched our first online therapist-to-client sessions, which offered OT, PT and speech therapies in an effort to slow and/or prevent regression in the wake of closures.

Virtual Schools: Online school lessons for K-12 also began last week with parents and caregivers facilitating at-home. We were also able to distribute traditional paper packets before stay-at-home orders were enacted, helping families without devices ensure that educational goals remain on track.

Lily Pre-School: Our Pre-K students at The Lily School received packets that included lesson plans, books, art supplies and even snacks to help keep our children occupied during this temporary closure. We are also connecting with families through private groups on social media platforms, providing much-needed connections for parents and caregivers.

Peer-to-peer Connections for Adults: Members of our STARS (Successful Talented Adults Reaching Skyward) program met for their first online gathering, providing connection outside their homes with their peers. It will now be a weekly online excursion with agendas each week designed to make the meetings richer for our consumers.

Art Anyone? We are creating online adult enrichment programming — like art and music, for example – launching our first virtual art instructions for adults in the coming days in a private Facebook group for clients who have online access.

We need your help.

This week has proven to be tremendous for our agency’s legacy, our clients and our staff.

We are thankful for all we have been able to accomplish.

The journey is far from over.

While we continue to craft truly innovative ways to deliver care to our clients and support to their families, the need is far from met. Revenue streams, which allow us to pay staff and secure materials and tools, are challenged and will only tighten.

With reduced ability to offer our traditional services, revenue has reduced dramatically challenging our ability to grow our online offerings and, of course, to pay our employees who provide the critical services – from therapy to respite care to education … and more. Devices to help connect clients to the therapies and school lessons cost hundreds of dollars. Continued training for staff in the virtual delivery models was not budgeted as we planned for 2020.

We appreciate the phone calls and emails that continue to come in asking about how we are coming through this and about what kind of help we need. One opportunity can come directly from you today by making a donation to help us get to tomorrow. Special thanks to organizations like FlanzerTrust.com and The Giving Challenge (April 28-29) which are making matching gift opportunities available. We hope you will consider joining us to help our clients live the best life possible under these circumstances.

We will continue to adapt, get stronger and look forward to the day we greet our clients again in person.

And I cannot wait for that morning.

Thank you for helping Easterseals Happiness House fulfill its promise — to our mission and to those we serve.

Until then, stay safe, stay home and keep washing those hands!

Tom Waters
President & CEO