- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

The Easter Seals foundation has opened a new center in Silver Spring that brings together a decade of innovative programs to care for children and adults at the same time.

When adults participate in activities with children, it gives them a great sense of purpose, said Lisa Reeves, president and chief executive officer of Easter Seals of the Greater Washington-Baltimore Region.

“The depression seen in some of the adults goes away, and they gain dignity and sense of purpose,” she explained. “We could not serve one generation with the exclusion of another.”

Easter Seals is the leading nonprofit provider of services for individuals with autism, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities and other special needs. Its services benefit an estimated 1.3 million children and adults annually.

Easter Seals has been providing intergenerational programs for the past 10 years, but the opening of the Silver Spring center last month marks the first time they have come together under one roof.

“We are officially and formally opening the center, tying generations of children and adults of all abilities,” said Ralph Boyd, chairman for the region’s board of directors.

Though the Inter-Generational Center has separate adult- and child-care services, staffers believe the best results are often achieved when the programs are combined.

For example, children and adults participate in sing-alongs, reading sessions and gardening.

The activities are done based on the person’s abilities, said Marilyn Ricker, vice president of child-development services for the region.

When one-on-one activities are planned, each adult and child is evaluated and, based upon the evaluation, the adults are paired with the children.

“We are very particular, and we make sure each person is suitable for one another,” Mrs. Ricker said.

The center also integrates the children at an early age with special-needs children and adults to teach them to accept others.

“The earliest we can put them in groups is the best time to integrate them,” Mrs. Ricker said. “The more you do early, the less you have to do later.”

Miss Reeves said that when other Easter Seals centers ran similar programs, many of the children were not enthusiastic about the visiting adults; but when the program ended, the children did not want to leave.

She also tells the story about a World War II veteran who suffered a stroke and fell into depression.

“He did not want to speak to anyone about what he witnessed in the war,” Miss Reeves recalled. “When he was paired up with the children, we noticed his depression dissipated, and he opened up to the children about his accounts with the war.

“This man survived the Battle of the Bulge and discovered the Dachau concentration camp. He suddenly opened up to these kids, and at the same time these kids were able to get such a great education. He shares wisdom, and the children learn to practice empathy. There is so much value in bringing the two together.”

David Dorfmann, 55, of Rockville, came to Easter Seals after he suffered strokes in 2000 and 2003. Mr. Dorfmann, a musician, considers himself a client and an employee of Easter Seals.

“I love the children,” he said. “I was young once, too, and so were you. Hey, I suffered two strokes, and I’m still here. So I know you can get better.”

Miss Reeves said the difference between this center and other assisted-living centers or nursing homes is how everything is made to not seem institutionalized.

“Barriers are broken down every day,” she said.

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