by Joyce Leggett Brock
ASHLAND — When one person who cares meets another person who cares, great things sometimes happen. At Ashland Elementary, good things are happening for a number of students following a chain reaction that passed from one caring person to another caring person until it would be almost impossible to track the people who helped.
In the foreground are the people being helped – a group of children at Ashland Elementary School.
On Tuesday, a load of wrapped Christmas gifts were delivered to the special needs classroom overseen by teachers Kelly Roberts, Teresa McKay, and Suzanne Watkins. Four students delighted as they opened package after package filled with brightly colored new playthings. Their eyes weren’t the only ones lighting up – around the room, warm smiles played on the faces of parents, teachers, school administrators, therapists and volunteers who were watching.
To the uninformed, the scene looks nice enough – children enjoying new toys for Christmas. With a little bit of background, though, the story deepens. These aren’t your average toys. These toys were each selected carefully and purposefully, based on their ability to help enrich the education of the special needs students who will utilize them.
For example, there were bags of what appeared to be small containers of modeling compound. Though modeling compound has been a long favored learning toy, what was in these containers was unique. The brightly colored clay was Occupational Therapy OT “Theraputty.” The color coded putty comes in varying consistencies ranging from very soft to extra-firm.
What appeared to be a large blue inflatable ball was passed around the room, too. While it was, in fact, an inflatable ball, it was much more than that. It was a product called a “Sensory Peanut Therapy Ball with Tactile Massage Bumps” made by Abilitations. It is designed like a stability ball, but in a peanut shape that limits rotation forward and backward. It’s covered with gentle massage bumps to add tactile input.
Even the toys that were exactly what they appeared to be – bubble solution, for example – held special importance in this setting. Each of these items were carefully selected for their value to students with special needs.
The toys will be used in a room that teachers and staff are currently preparing adjacent to the regular classroom which serves around a dozen special needs students. The “calming room” or “sensory room” will both enhance the students’ education and help calm them when distraught. The donated items will assist with therapy, instruction and play-time. In short, these toys will serve the youngsters in a multitude of ways – and they were carefully chosen to do exactly that.
The selection of those toys leads back to the people in the background – those caring people who made all of this happen for the students and teachers at AES.
Benton County School District contracts with Simple Strokes Therapy to provide therapy for these students. Therapists Stacey Miller and Lacey Dunlap, who work with the students, recognized the need at AES and called a charity with which they were familiar – Aubrie’s Angels. Aubrie’s Angels helped provide the items that AES received. The therapists, along with two members of their family, then delivered the truck load of items to AES, wrapped and ready to enjoy.
Aubrie’s Angels is less of a large organization and more of a project run by a mother from Tennessee. On Mollie Sheppard’s website, www.aubriesangels.com, you’ll find a few links. One of her links goes to her personal blog and the other link goes to a “wish list” set up on the shopping website Amazon.
Her blog gives a small glimpse into her life and gives some insight into her heart for special needs children. In the blog, she relates various stories about her life as a mother. The link takes you to a post entitled “In the beginning…”, where she tells the heartbreaking details of the birth of her twins.
At 21 weeks, her daughter, Aubrie Angelina, was born. Although her family and doctors fought to save her, Aubrie Angelina’s life was very short – only days.
Sheppard fought hard to continue to carry Aubrie’s twin brother, Daxton Anthony. She was able to carry him to 23.5 weeks, and he was born weighing 1 lb. and 7 oz.
In her blog, Sheppard describes her son when he was born as “Perfectly… Perfect… Of course he has severely under-developed… everything… but he’s perfect.”
Daxton Anthony is now enrolled in school, where he is joined by his younger brother, Tyler. Tyler has autism.
The Amazon shopping list on her site is a part of the way that Mollie Sheppard helps children with special needs under the banner of “Aubrie’s Angels.” The shopping list allows people to look through items that Sheppard has pre-selected, which can help special needs students or families that she has selected. The items range from small to large, affordable to expensive. What they have in common is that they’re especially beneficial to autistic children and children who need extra sensory stimulation.
Through her championing, advertising, blogging, and promotion on social networks, generous individuals purchase items which are then shipped to either Sheppard for redistribution or to a benefitting family or group. (Typically, the efforts go toward helping the family of a special needs child. Although these items and toys can be fundamental to development, they can also be prohibitively expensive for families already facing extra financial demands.)
The end result of all of that thought, all of that caring, and the efforts of all of those people, results in something wonderful – increased hope and potential for children who need it.