Easter Seals Enriches
For nearly 70 years, Easter Seals Arkansas has quietly worked, assisting Arkansans with disabilities as well as their families. While many are aware the organization serves children, the services they offer adults are less known.
(from left) Shayla, Scott and Lyn Copas
Photography by Janet Warlick and Nancy Nolan
Easter Seals Arkansas (ESA) provides services for children, ranging from infants as young as 3 months to preschool. “We have a preschool that is inclusive of children with and without disabilities; our teachers are certified in early childhood education and/or special education,” said Julia Hamra, public relations director. “We provide high-risk infant monitoring for babies in the NICU and at home as well as evaluations, consultations and developmental therapy.” Their team of professionals serves school-age children directly and indirectly by training teachers. ESA also has an inpatient rehabilitation center for school-age children, 3 to 18, who have orthopedic, neuromuscular and/or developmental disabilities. “In 2011, we provided services for more than 20,000 children in Arkansas through our outreach and technology programs.”
What is perhaps less known is that ESA serves adults. Johnny Baldwin is the director of adult services. “Our adult clients are 18 and older and have a high school diploma or certificate of completion,” he said. Further, there is no typical client — not everyone was a child with disabilities, for instance, one of their clients is a middle-aged adult who suffered a stroke.
ESA offers Adult Day Services, a program that assists clients with life skills, such as household and cooking duties, recreation and leisure activities and community integration. The program includes a wellness center, “artability” classroom, a library and the Windstream Communication and Technology Center. In October, the center will move to 14901 Cantrell Road (formerly David Claiborne Ltd.), a location with 43,000 square feet, allowing them more room to expand existing services as well as add a skills training area and to have 10,000 square feet for the RENEW Recycling program.
“The new center will allow us to teach job readiness skills, enabling our clients to serve our local community through programs such as the RENEW Recycling, which helps companies in becoming green while providing opportunities for our adults to be employed,” Baldwin said. “We also teach general life skills such as functional literacy and mathematics. Our clients learn how to bank and shop, how to use public transportation and basic things, such as how to tell time.”
Linda Rogers is vice president of programs for ESA. “Our adult clients have the typical issues that come with aging, so classes like health and nutrition are key.”
Knowledge of these skills as well as the employment opportunities offered at EAS allow a number of their clients to live semi-independently, as is the case of Lynda “Lyn” Copas, who is moderately mentally challenged. The only sibling of Little Rock businessman Scott Copas, Lyn has lived in one of the three residential apartment complexes operated by EAS for more than two years. She came to Easter Seals after their mother, who had cared for Lynda her entire life, died.
“Obviously, Scott and Lyn’s mother’s death was an emotional loss, but for Lyn, it was a huge transition. She’d not only lost her mother, but she had to move from the only home she’d ever known,” said Shayla Copas, Scott’s wife. “But Lyn has simply blossomed. She’s really the center of attention here. Before moving to [the ESA apartments], she was really antisocial, now she has a lot of friends. Her quality of life has gone from zero to 10; it’s improved greatly.”
Scott agreed. “Before coming to Easter Seals, Lyn had never seen a computer. This has been an absolute Godsend for us. We never knew Lyn’s social abilities, because she’d been sheltered. I was concerned about her safety. But, with their guidance, she’s blossomed. She’s learned and is doing things I was told she’d never do. She writes, she reads, she counts money, makes grocery lists and shops … we don’t really know how far she can go. She’s grown 100 to 200 percent in these last two years.”
Lyn beams when she speaks of Easter Seals and the works she does there. “Yeah, I’m very happy. I like art. I like the computer. I go to art class,” she said. Then she remembered she had a gift for Shayla and disappeared into her apartment.
Lyn and other students create various artworks that are sold each fall at Art & Soul, a fundraiser hosted by Easter Seals. Last year, Shayla quietly purchased a piece of art Lyn had painted and presented it to Scott for Christmas. It hangs in his office.
Lyn returned to Shayla and presented her with a plaid pillow she’d sewn in class, and is pleased when Shayla thanks her for the thoughtful token. It’s obvious, even to a casual observer, that Lyn enjoys her time at the ESA day center.
“Initially, Lyn said she didn’t want to work,” Scott said. “Now, she loves it.”
“I have a lot to do now,” Lyn said. She’s 58 and jokes that she’s “getting up there.” “No, you’re not old,” Scott said. Lyn replied, “I know. I’m just kidding you.”
“I’ve been involved in a lot of organizations that serve people in a lot of different ways, but I’ve never seen an organization that is so well run, that is so concerned about the people they serve as Easter Seals is … they really are family,” Scott said.
Linda Rogers said Lyn’s experience in the ESA community is one she has seen with other residents. “One of our residents — a man in his 50s — this is his first time living ‘on his own,’ and he said this is the best thing. ‘No one tells me when to get up and when to go to bed.’ For many of our residents — this is their first time living on their own.”
There is a waiting list for the three ESA communities; however, Rogers said they hope to build two additional complexes. Residents may have physical and/or cognitive disabilities, thus a residential manager is onsite during evening hours. Mayzetta “Miss May” Thomasson is Lyn’s.
“We have various activities for the residents, like birthday and holiday parties. We eat out every other Friday and have a dance every three months,” Miss May said. “When Lyn first came, she spent a lot of time alone. Eventually, she opened up and now everyone loves her.”
Scott has observed ESA personnel at the properties and recounted a visit to one of the communities during which Easter Seals president/CEO Sharon Moone-Jochums greeted each of the residents by name. “You can see the passion and care each person has for the work they do,” he said. “What they do for the people they serve is not a handout; they work hard, they are involved and they give back to the community. It’s a win-win situation.”
On May 18, ESA supporters will gather at the Arkansan of the Year event. This is an annual fundraiser for the organization and this year, the honorees are Cindy and Chip Murphy, philanthropists. Shayla, who serves on the ESA board, found out about their adult services from Cindy. Rogers said she’s not surprised, “Cindy is a great ambassador for Easter Seals.”
This event honoring the Murphys is very important. Hamra said, “Arkansan of the Year is an important fundraiser for us. We need the financial support as well as the awareness that events like this bring us.”
Tickets to the event — which includes a cocktail reception, dinner, an auction and entertainment — are $250 each, $2,500 for a table. Log onto ar.easterseals.com or call (501) 501-227-3710.