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Alive East Bay Magazine

Caring Awareness

I write monthly articles for Alive East Bay Magazine. My goal is to provide positive information, resources and hope for all communities. I hope you enjoy March’s edition. đź’š

The month of March always has me in deep reflection. As an awareness month to educate the public about Cerebral Palsy and all that this medical diagnosis signifies, I think about all that my 11-year-old daughter has survived. I think about what emotional turmoil my family and I have survived and about the many families with a special needs diagnosis.

While caring and awareness may be brief for some, the many “hats” that I must wear are the forever symbols of the delicate care I must incorporate, as life is now filled with priorities much different than those of mainstream society. It is a rocky path strewn with emotional, physical, financial, and medical challenges, but these bumps in the road can be faced with help from caring organizations like CARE Parent Network.

Founded over 30 years ago after the implementation of The Lanterman Act (laws to protect and grant equal rights for those with disabilities), CARE Parent Network is a family resource center that provides support for the disabled and the loved ones that care for them.

When my daughter was first diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a medical condition due to injury of the Cerebral Cortex (the part of the brain that controls muscle movement and function), I thought her world had been shattered into pieces, resulting in many future hardships. Families feel lost after being told by a medical professional that their child has a condition that will limit their physical or developmental ability. They can feel alone with their fears as they navigate medical terminologies, paperwork, and life-long commitments to readjusting their daily schedules—let alone the educational options and legal rights of which one must be knowledgeable in order to wear a respectful but firm hat of advocacy. While a parent cares for the child, CARE Parent Network takes care of the family unit, providing a network of supportive and informative options.

Whether through support groups or one-on-one support, CARE Parent Network’s  staff are not only knowledgeable but empathetic, as they are, themselves, special needs parents, like program director Hannah Michaelsen. With a degree in public administration and the parent of a son was with Autism, Hannah was a volunteer for CARE for 14 years before becoming its program director. The most gratifying part of her job, she states, “is to share in a chapter where others are more empowered and confident because of CARE’s existence; to equip the parents to advocate and navigate not only the system, but their daily lives.” Through CARE, doors are opened to compassionate directions of understanding. They help clients navigate the intricate paperwork of IEPs (educational planning and goals) and legal rights, as well as addressing personal concerns and frustrations.  

May the months that introduce awareness also introduce connections that inspire compassion and a purpose to create a sustainable and capable community; one where a disability turns into visibility beyond the fog that can overwhelm us.

The ribbon we wear this month is about being aware that there are people who do care. It is a ribbon worn not just once a year but every day. May CARE Parent Network continue to weave together all ribbons and teach families to wear them with not just pride but unwavering hope.  

For more information, please visit careparentnetwork.org or visit their Facebook group page: Care Parent Network

Alive East Bay Magazine

Breaking Patterns

ALIVE-Media-Magazine-February-2020-Nekisha Pic

I write monthly articles for Alive East Bay Magazine. My goal is to provide positive information, resources and hope for all communities. I hope you enjoy February’s edition. ❤

Just like a national holiday or a particular month that focuses on a person or group of people who overcame enormous challenges changes your perceptions, sometimes you meet someone that unexpectedly adds to that enhanced appreciation of life. A person I met recently, Nekisha Gallon, is one of those people that touches your life the moment you meet her.

With a heart to always strive for a better life than what she endured as a child, Nekisha Gallon is a true spiritual survivor who aims to be a light to anyone she meets. A bright soul I crossed paths with in the past year, we instantly connected because of our experiences with the foster care system. Her story began in 2001 when she was only 11 years old and forced to endure the emotional turmoil as she was removed from her home and placed into the custody of the Contra Costa County foster care system. She endured painful experiences no child should ever have to face.

The oldest of six siblings, Nekisha and her younger brothers and sisters were separated, placed into not just one foster care home but multiple foster care homes. Caught in the crossfire of her mother’s crack addiction, she dealt with multiple instances of sexual abuse at the hands of people who were supposed to care for her. Even with all these tragedies in her memories, Nekisha always knew that God had a different plan for her life.

Watching her mother make diligent efforts to show up for the supervised visits, the devastation and difficulties of her mother’s choices, along with the lack of follow through from the county’s family court system, she witnessed the deterioration of her mother’s mental state. What could have been an opportunity for her mother, Rocquel, to be provided with direction and resources for rehabilitation, sadly resulted in her living on the streets of North Richmond.

Dealing with the world with her heart on her sleeve just like her daughter, Rocquel has endured harassment and insults as she survives sleeping in parks and any abandoned home she can find. Nekisha still visits her in this environment out of unconditional love and a desire to keep her thoughts on what is good in this world and how she can add something good in her mother’s life.

It can be a very cruel world that we live in but there are offsets because of the determination of individuals like my dear friend to keep on keepin’ on. Sadly, growing up in a dysfunctional family environment often leads to a continuation of the dysfunction. However, Nekisha shattered the limitations by graduating with honors from high school and now attends Cal State East Bay, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business. In 2015 she married her high school sweetheart and is a mother of two children, Angelo Jr. and A’Naiyah. Today she works full-time in her own fitness business, “Flexin With Keke,” and is working to raise funds to help her mother with future rehabilitation costs.

You never know what someone has been through and their capacity to make necessary changes, despite pushbacks, so don’t judge a book by its cover because behind that “book” may be loved ones wanting a better path for all involved. Whether a person is part of the mainstream or the struggling homeless, everyone has a story to share. When the day begins and you walk out the door to face it, remember that there are those who have endured or who are enduring a rough path.

The pain of the past can be the lesson that helps us grow and break patterns; to plant the seeds that help the community and many we may never meet. It was such an honor to get to know about Nekisha and her family’s life. Just like her business name, instead of letting the problems keep her down, she is determined to flex through the mess. It is a pattern we all should imitate.

For more information regarding fundraising or to be a physical fitness member with “Flexin_With_Keke”, please email flexinwithkeke@gmail.com

 

Alive East Bay Magazine

What Have You Got To Lose?

Alive_ Mary Smith Toys For Tots Pic

I write monthly articles for Alive East Bay Magazine. My goal is to provide positive information, resources and hope for special needs awareness and inclusion. I hope you enjoy December’s edition. ❤

Just as holidays can be misrepresented as a time to buy expensive gifts out of obligation, the season can also be a time where we get to see the best in people through their actions. Whether it is individuals, businesses, or organizations, a sense of hope and inclusion is provided to others through compassionate, kind effort.  It is a way to let others know, whether we know them or not, that they are not forgotten.

The collaboration of Bay Alarm Company and Toys for Tots is a perfect example of such compassion.

“To whom much is given, much is expected,” is a quote that says to help when you have the resources to do so, especially if you have an overflow of those resources. Mary Smith is one person who provides new meaning to this quote, who gives without expecting anything in return.  It is the pure joy of giving to others just to see the smiles on children’s faces and the display of relief and gratitude from the families. Remembering the experiences in her life when there were struggles, Mary Smith made it a part of her personal day to day life to help others through volunteering or giving gifts to those in need.

In 1986, she extended her fundraising activities to Toys for Tots and eventually through her employer, Bay Alarm.  Bay Alarm began generously matching the funds raised at 100%, doubling the financial ability to provide gifts for families that struggle all year long to make ends meet, let alone obtain extra provisions during a holiday.  It was in 2016 that Mary’s fundraising at work reached the highest earnings of $35,000.00 with all of it used to purchase gifts and care packages for the Toys for Tots families. Whether it was families in foster care, those struggling with addiction, or individuals with medical challenges, it was through her 30+ years of devotion to giving to others that still reminds the world that it takes a village.

In 2019, Mary Smith retired from Bay Alarm. At her retirement celebration she was surprised with an honorary gift—a dedication award from Bay Alarm that included the new title of the fundraising efforts to be named “Mary Smith Toys for Tots.”  Just as their logo says, “What Have You Got to Lose?”, her employer showed its gratitude because when a village practices unconditional giving, that village has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Even though people may retire from jobs, people never retire from having a heart to compassionately give others a moment of joy just when they need it the most.  As the torch is passed for other kind-hearted Bay Alarm employees to maintain the momentum of giving, may the same selfless energy of these individuals carry on infinitely.

That’s what the season is meant to represent—when we give it our all with a focus to benefit others, we never lose.  We gain memories and set the paths that last for generations.  Bay Alarm, Toys for Tots, and Mary Smith are reminders of what really counts in life; not the measurable and tangible, but the immeasurable and intangible.  May we all stay on a path to deliver hope from the heart, not just during the holidays, but every day.

For more information on how you can give to those in need, please visit:

http://www.toysfortots.org

For more information about Bay Alarm’s community support, please visit:

 

https://aliveeastbay.com/category/wellness/

 

Inspirational

Blacktop Rivers

blacktop river poem pic

I had to leave the point of where I was

Left in the thoughts of hell was pretty rough

I had taken many roads before that wasn’t too wise

Only to end up full circle, what a surprise

Back to square one and I couldn’t get away

From the child in me that wanted to stay

Good bye to the ways of the woe

As I float on down this windy road

 

The blacktop rivers

The rivers..the blacktop rivers

Seek and you shall find

The freedom of your mind

The blacktop rivers release the blind

Get on the road of discovery

The blacktop rivers of clarity

Letting it go..letting it go

Set your mind free

 

Blacktop Rivers where my mind goes free

Movin’ to my dream, the road beneath my feet

Pressing forward without touchin’ the ground

Letting the wind brush past me, my thoughts with no sound

 

I’m just letting my mind go free

On the blacktop rivers to the powers that be

The blacktop rivers where no one can stop me

I’m just letting my mind go free

 

Blacktop Rivers where my mind goes free

Movin’ to my dream, the road beneath my feet

Pressin’ forward without touchin’ the ground

Letting the wind brush past me, my thoughts with no sound

 

I’m just letting my mind go free

On the blacktop rivers to the powers that be

The blacktop rivers where no one can stop me

I’m just letting my mind go free

 

On the blacktop rivers to the powers that be

 

Copyright Stefanie Boggs-Johnson

 

Alive East Bay Magazine

Goalbusters

I write monthly articles for Alive East Bay Magazine. My goal is to provide positive information, resources and hope for special needs awareness and inclusion. I hope you enjoy November’s edition. ❤

Goalbusters


Goalbusters

Breaking through barriers is never easy. There will be individuals who will support your endeavors and have your back, and there will be others who belittle your goals and dreams. Then there are those on the same path as you. You join the flock and decide not to give up after all. You keep going for that goal.

That is what AYSO VIP League did for my perspective of finding a sport for children within the special needs community. A soccer organization that offers competitive sports for the mainstream and a non-competitive sport for those diagnosed with special needs (VIP), my husband and I signed up our ten-year-old daughter. We were not disappointed.

The season recently ended and, after having the enjoyment of watching my daughter’s confidence flourish on the field, I was so impressed. It was so positive and touching to watch how the VIP coaches and mainstream coaches collaborated in each game. Assigned as “buddies,” the team of mainstream kids patiently interacted with the VIP team. I watched inclusion and a balance of competitiveness of which the opposing team adjusted, based on the skill level of my daughter’s team. It was an hour of easygoing enjoyment where no mama or papa bear showed their fangs on the sidelines. The players played, the parents watched, and the coaches coached.

It was because of the coaches that these moments were able to occur with passion, focus and consistency—all of it done on a volunteer basis. The coaches, past and present, exemplified action that came from their hearts. As I recently sat with them enjoying a spaghetti dinner at the VIP Soccerfest costume party, I was amazed at how long they all have been dedicated to providing an inclusive sport for a special group of young individuals.

The fearless leader of my daughter’s team, “Goalbusters,” Peter Gaughan (aka Coach Pete) has volunteered with the AYSO VIP league for 21 years with some of those years as Director for the league. His spunky “let’s do this!” attitude was apparent to me the moment I meant him. To find out how long he has been giving his time and energy only added to my respect for him. His coaching assistant, Cecilia Romero-Chavez, became involved after moving from Richmond to Pleasant Hill and began looking for sports activities for her son. Through her “Googling,” she became part of AYSO VIP in 2006 and is currently the Division Coordinator. They are a duo that follows through with emails, practices and games. Also in attendance at the league’s Halloween celebration was Steve Forbes, who began volunteering in 1997. Even though he no longer volunteers as a coach, there he was attending this event for these special kids out of pure admiration for the division and all it stands for—inclusion. I truly felt surrounded by sincere human beings.

If you are a parent of a child diagnosed with a special need and are in doubt of which way to turn or how to find a compatible environment, just know that you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed or in despair. Uplifting, helpful, and inspiring resources are available in many different forms. Achieving milestones are possible for people of all abilities. There is a flock ready to include you to help you bust through any barriers and reach the goal. I know this to be true because my family and I started out with so much fear and despair. Now, ten years later, we get to witness our daughter “bust” out of any restrictive assumptions that society prematurely places, and she is achieving more goals than we ever could have imagined. Every child is born with VIP status but AYSO helped remind my daughter’s teammates that they are all “Goalbusters.”

Thank you AYSO VIP league coaches and volunteers. I hope my gratitude in this article is the fuel that keeps reminding all of you that your devoted actions do make a difference. It is your efforts that reminds me that there is always a flock that I can call upon. As Coach Pete would say at the end of every game, “Who you gonna call?”, I happily answer along with my daughter “Goalbusters!”

For more information about AYSO VIP League, please visit https://ayso.org/play/vip/