Jayne Crouthamel and Dr. H. Garry Gardner, co-chairman of the Easter Seals DFVR Medical Advisory Board, show off their awards after the 9th Annual Run for the Kids.
Easter Seals DuPage and
the Fox Valley Region
Rosalie Dold Center, 830 S. Addison Ave.,
Additional locations in Naperville and Elgin
Updated: July 17, 2012 11:58AM
Though her daughter had walked down the runway in Easter Seals fashion shows, Pam Crouthamel of Burr Ridge wanted to be absolutely certain that 10-year-old Jayne felt comfortable trying out for the National American Miss Pageant.
Someone had anonymously nominated the young girl for the Illinois competition and her mother wasn’t sure how to respond.
“I asked her, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ and she said ‘Of course I want do it,’ ” Crouthamel recalled.
Jayne ended up on top at the local contest and will compete with other state finalists in a pageant in St. Charles at the end of summer.
Most parents would agree that keeping their child’s self-esteem high is important. For Crouthamel, it’s a must.
Jayne was born with congenital hydrocephalus, a medical condition referred to as “water on the brain” that can have adverse effects on thought and behavior. The condition has caused the left side of her body to be weaker than the right side. This past fall she had surgery to lengthen her calf muscles and improve foot movement.
To date Jayne has undergone surgery twice to install and replace a drainage tube in her brain that helps release some of the pressure. She also wears special glasses to overcome an optic atrophy.
Despite these setbacks, Jayne is an active child who likes to sing, dance and swim.
Crouthamel said her daughter’s achievements — including completing a 5K race this past spring — are made possible in part due to the support and services she receives at Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region.
An Easter Seals beneficiary since age 3, Jayne visits the facility four times a week to see her longtime physical therapist Celine Skertich and occupational therapist Linda Merry.
“They’re like our family,” Crouthamel said, a notion reiterated again and again by those whose lives are touched by the work of the organization.
Now in its 70th year, the DuPage County affiliate of the national Easter Seals organization provides programs and services for people with disabilities with the goal of helping them achieve maximum independence.
Most of the outpatient rehabilitation center’s clients are children who need help enhancing or restoring their mobility and functional competency, developing fine-motor skills, and improving speech, communication and social skills.
Nationally-renowned professionals staff Easter Seals’ specialized clinics. A feeding program, for example, brings a variety of professionals together in a room to discuss and more effectively meet a child’s nutrition needs.
Other services include assistive technology therapy, evaluations, audiology, social services, community outreach programs, a child development center and a continuing education program.
A holistic approach to healing is the foundation for Easter Seals care, as there typically isn’t one solution or method that adequately resolves all of a child’s developmental issues.
“As part of all our services we look at all aspects and needs of a child,” said the organization’s president and CEO Theresa Forthofer.
Forthofer knows firsthand the impact services can have on families with a disabled child. Early intervention is particularly critical to helping kids grow healthfully and improve over time, she said.
A national Easter Seals campaign, Make the First Five Count, has an online questionnaire for parents to track whether their child’s developmental progress is on time and alerts them to issues to discuss with a health care provider.
It’s a tool Forthofer wishes was available two decades ago.
Before she became an Easter Seals leader in March 2011, Forthofer had accompanied her two sons on trips to the center for years.
Her oldest and youngest children, Ryan, 19, and Justin, 13, are autistic. Though Justin is six years younger and has a more severe form of the disorder, “he is far surpassing what Ryan will ever be able to do,” Forthofer said.
The difference between the two boys is early diagnosis and treatment. Doctors and teachers didn’t realize the severity of her first-born’s development delays until he was in kindergarten.
“ ‘Don’t worry, he’s a little delayed,’ is what we heard for seven years,” Forthofer said. When Justin came along, she knew right away that he, too, had a disability and got him into a rehabilitation program at Easter Seals immediately.
“Getting those interventions in place, when the brain is firing and changing, has a lasting, long-term impact,” she said.
Easter Seals can make an imprint on the lives of those who haven’t directly benefited from its services.
Former board president Margaret Resce Milkint of Hinsdale served as a director of the organization for 11 years before stepping down in October.
She said in addition to Easter Seals’ state-of-the-art facilities and high professional standards, the sense of family and community the organization fosters is unparalleled.
“There is an art and science to its services,” she said. “The art is the heart, the way that people are touched.”
A project called Book of Firsts moves Resce Milkint to tears. Though it appears to be a simple dated catalog of a child’s developmental progress, to families it is much more than that.
“The first time they say ‘Mommy, I love you’ or take their first steps — these are milestones every child deserves,” Resce Milkint said.
Her own family helps meet the Easter Seals’ mission, too. Her 16-year-old daughter, Monica Milkint, regularly volunteers at its Lily Garden Child Care Center and with the Lose the Training Wheels bike-riding program.
The goal of working and mostly playing with Easter Seals clients, Milkint said, is “to help them go above and beyond what they think is possible.”
“I hope to be a part of it for the rest of my life,” said the junior at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago.