Mothers Day isn’t until next month, but mothers of children with special needs in the northwest Indiana area were encouraged to come out to Lakeside Wealth Management in Chesterton for an afternoon of fun and appreciation.
Founded in 1998 in Porter County by Mariann Frigo and named after Frigo’s own son who was born with Down Syndrome, Jacob’s Ladder Pediatric Rehab is a not-for-profit organization providing comprehensive therapy and supplemental care to children with special needs. Their programs include Lights Up Sound Down, a series of sensory-friendly movies, Aqua Group water rehab to help build core strength and coordination and several others.
Julie Havenith is a lawyer and Valparaiso resident. She is also the mother of a son with autism and the family has had the best possible experience with the organization.
“He’s made so much progress because of Jacob’s Ladder it’s unbelievable,” said Havenith who, along with her son, has been involved with Jacob’s Ladder for the last five years.
“This is a great chance for these moms to have a day off... to come here and be pampered and meet with other moms with special children. It’s a chance to share and that helps a lot,” said Havenith.
Hosting the event was Jacob Ladder’s Junior Board.
“The Junior Board is a group of area teenagers who have an interest in helping children with special needs,” said Cindy Withrow, a physical therapist who works with the Junior Board.
“Today’s banquet is purely just a way for us to pamper these moms, to give them a chance to relax and meet other moms and share some experiences,” said Withrow, who was especially excited to hear from the guest speaker of the afternoon, Rhonda Willingham. “She has really walked the path where these moms have walked, and are going to walk in the future.”
The moms gathered amid gleaming tables decorated with balloons and lined with gift-wrapped surprises as they enjoyed a few games before Willingham took the floor.
Willingham stood before the other mothers and shared her own, very personal experiences regarding her daughter, who was born with Down Syndrome.
“When you find out that your child has Down Syndrome, you experience the same feelings you would have if you lost a loved one. Anger, depression, all those stages of grief. You feel all of them. You have to work your way through all of them,” said Willingham, who refused to give up on her child as her doctor insisted.
“She’s our baby, and we are going to take her home,” she recalled telling him.
Willingham went on to speak about just some of the many challenges faced by mothers of children with special needs, but said that it all comes down to one thing.
“Just treat people with respect. Treat people with love,” said Willingham.
Maggie Gardner, 17, is a student at Chesterton High School and a member the Junior Board.
“I’m super-involved in my school, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to get involved outside of that circle, to be a help to a bigger part of the community. We had friends who were on the Junior Board, so we wanted to be a part of that,” said Gardner. She especially enjoys giving people opportunities that they otherwise would not be able to experience.
“That is more rewarding to me, because that’s something that I would not otherwise be able to experience, if it wasn’t for Jacob’s Ladder and the Junior Board,” said Gardner. “I just love these kids.”
For more information about Jacob’s Ladder and the services they provide for families and children with special needs, go to www.jacobskids.org.