Thursday, September 01, 2005

WE ARE THE BLESSED

Our involuntary vacation continues, but the news of our family is good. All of our close relations seem to be safe. The firm I work for is picking up the pieces and trying to get back going. We’ve just heard that our house apparently sustained only minor damage, and there is nothing we left there -- other than some family mementos -- that can’t be replaced. We are the blessed. But we know so many that have not been so lucky.

Members of various groups of people are helping their own, and the autism community is no exception. An effort is underway by Unlocking Autism to help families with ASD kids. That is certainly a worthwhile effort. Another means of helping is to focus on individuals. I want to bring one family in need to your attention.

Sheila Ealey has become my wife’s best friend. Sheila Ealey has become one of my biggest heroes.

Sheila is the type of person it’s easy to love; she never lets adversity get the best of her. She hasn’t let Lupus get the best of her, although it breaks her heart that one of her daughters was recently diagnosed as having Lupus as well. Sheila’s husband, Ron, recently retired from the military, and planned to get a job in the corporate sector in New Orleans. Ron is the most likely candidate one could hope to find for an executive position; he has an M.B.A. and served as a District Comptroller for the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, the economy in New Orleans is such that Ron did not receive any offers, and the Ealeys have been living and trying to raise three kids, two of whom have special needs, on a military pension.

Like so many of us, Sheila and Ron have a son on the spectrum. Sheila faced this challenge as she faced every other challenge in her life. She decided to do something not just for her son, but for all autistic children. Sheila co-founded the Creative Learning Center, a special school with the specific goal of being able to completely transition autistic children into a mainstream environment at the earliest possible age.

Sheila, whose academic background is behavioral psychology, designed a program and curriculum to address the needs of the whole child, relying on teamwork between specially educated and trained teachers and aids working with qualified therapists, psychologists, physicians, and other professionals. The Creative Learning Center was to be one of only four schools in the nation to use the latest behavioral and play therapies, as well as autistic based language therapies. The therapies offered by the school were not the once-or-twice-a-week-if-you’re-lucky routine that we have all come to know with public schools. The children were to have intensive therapy, along with inclusion sessions with neurotypical children, every single day. Sheila struggled to raise funds, she found a host school with the local Catholic Archdiocese, and spent untold hours scrounging, painting, and getting ready.

The Creative Learning Center was to have had its first day of classes this past Monday. Around the same time the first bell was to have rung, Hurricane Katrina was blowing through. We don’t know if the building is still there; when last we heard it was under water.

Sheila and Ron have apparently lost their home. And Sheila worries that she has lost not only the physical site for her school, but also her dream of a school that would help her son and others like him.

This family needs a home. They need a job. Sheila needs help in getting her dream school up and going somewhere -- anywhere.

If you think you can help Sheila and Ron, email me (wsrank@bellsouth.net).

4 Comments:

Blogger Kristina Chew said...

Wade, I'd like to know more about Sheila's school--did the Archdiocese play any part in helping it get off the ground? (I guess that wording is sadly misapplied here.) We are all thinking of her, and you, and all of yours. kc

9/1/05, 11:02 PM  
Blogger Wade Rankin said...

The director of the Archdiocese's schools helped introduce Sheila and her co-founder to a few donors, and helped to find a host school. The center was not, however, a ministry of the Church. It was incorporated on its own, had its own faculty (now all out of work), had its own contracts with the LSU Psychology Department for services, and basically functioned separate and apart from the host school and the Archdiocese. Sheila served as the school's director without pay.

Thanks so much for your kind thoughts. Things are plenty crazy back home, and we're all struggling to keep our focus on what is truly important.

9/1/05, 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Orac sent me to wish you, and everyone currently suffering the effects of Katrina, all the best. I hope the relief efforts step up so that everyone, including your freind and her school, can get past the search for basic life necessities and move on to rebuilding.

9/3/05, 10:55 AM  
Anonymous Kathleen Seidel said...

Wade, I'm relieved to hear that you and your family are okay, or as okay as could be expected given the magnitude of what you've been through.

Sheila's school sounded like it had a lot of promise. I do hope that she'll be able to pull that dream back together.

Take care.

9/5/05, 5:05 AM  

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