Interview: Leslie Gaskins, Easter Seals

Easter SealsWe recently had the opportunity to talk with Leslie Gaskins, the Development Director of Easter Seals, Florida’s East Coast Regional Office.

Chartered in 1948, Easter Seals Florida provides a wide range of programs for Floridians of all ages with disabilities and special needs, including early intervention and child care; outpatient rehabilitation and therapy; a summer camp for children and adults with disabilities; adult day health care; and vocational services. In addition, Easter Seals Florida plays a critical role as an advocate for people with disabilities and special needs. In Brevard County, Easter Seals Florida provides critical programs for adults with disabilities.

Easter Seals has had a presence in Brevard County for many decades, but the organization operates differently today. Formerly known as Easter Seals East Central Florida, the organization was acquired by Easter Seals Florida, Inc., in 2001. The region is governed by Easter Seals Florida’s state board of directors and headquarters office in Winter Park, as well as a local board whose primary functions are fundraising and community awareness.

What does Easter Seals do in Brevard County?
Easter Seals Florida, Inc. is committed to helping individuals with disabilities and special needs gain greater independence and lead fuller lives. Headquartered in Winter Park, Easter Seals Florida has regional offices located throughout the state providing various services for individuals with disabilities and special needs: East Coast (Palm Bay), Central Florida (Winter Park), West Coast (Tampa), Palm Beach/Martin County, and the Florida Keys.

Easter SealsThe East Coast Regional Office, located in Palm Bay in southern Brevard County, provides two main services to individuals from Brevard, Indian River, and Okeechobee counties. Easter Seals Vocational Center in Palm Bay provides adults with disabilities or special needs the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to deliver high quality work to companies in the community, while learning new skills in an environment that is mentally, physically, and socially enriching. Our Vocational Center participants also receive adult basic education classes and opportunities for community employment. Easter Seals Adult Day Services in Titusville is the most comprehensive program in Brevard County for frail older adults or adults with disabilities or special needs. It is a safe and encouraging environment that is an affordable alternative to assisted living and nursing home placement, while providing much-needed respite and peace of mind for the caregivers of our participants.

How is it connected to the national organization?
Easter Seals Florida affiliates directly with the national Easter Seals office. Each affiliate must be re-certified each year to remain a part of Easter Seals’ nationwide network.

Our affiliation provides us with built-in recognition, public awareness and overall pride in the Easter Seals brand; peer relationships, sharing information and ideas, and working together on common issues; and support services from national headquarters. We are proud to be part of an organization that serves more than one million people with disabilities across the country!

What is your mission?
Easter Seals’ mission is to create solutions that change the lives of children and adults with disabilities and other special needs, and their families.

Who is at risk? Who is in danger of falling in between the cracks?
Unfortunately, many of our clients are in danger of falling between the cracks. So many program participants have varying levels of disabilities. For example, our Vocational Services program is designed to give people with disabilities the opportunity to come to a place where they can gain new skills and complete work for local companies, while getting compensated for the work that they do. Many of them might not be able to otherwise find meaningful employment outside our program. Here, they are guided through their workday under the caring supervision of our staff. The great thing is, many of our participants go on to hold employment at local business thanks to the training that they have received from Easter Seals.

You provide support services to caregivers. How does the public get access to these programs?
Our support services to the caregivers are implicit within our programs. By bringing a loved one to one of our programs, a caregiver gains peace of mind. The caregiver can go about his/her normal life with work, personal care, and social commitments, and know that the loved one is in a safe environment that mentally, socially, and physically challenges the individual. We have excellent staff in all of our programs who are specially trained to work with people with disabilities and who take pride in working with our participants to ensure they receive the best possible care.

Easter SealsOther caregiver support services include education and training regarding issues that impact adults with disabilities and special needs, and referrals to health care providers, funding agencies and other assistance agencies. This spring, Easter Seals will begin offering Transportation Solutions training for caregivers and volunteers that provide transportation for seniors in Brevard County.

I guess you could say Easter Seals also provides support services through advocacy efforts at the local, state, and federal level for individuals who are frail/elderly or who have a disability or other special need. Easter Seals plays a critical role in creating awareness and public acceptance of people with disabilities and special needs.

Your fraud prevention for seniors is an amazing program. How can people participate?
The fraud prevention seminar is just one offering in our Adult Day Services program. One great thing about our Adult Day Services program is its diversity and variety of opportunities for education and participation. The people who attend our program (and their families) can participate in a wide-range of informational and fun activities, such as arts & crafts, pet therapy, outings, special meals, musical and theatrical performances, and so on. We have an activities coordinator on staff that plans activities that are not only entertaining, but enrich the lives of the participants. And all of these activities are included in the Adult Day Services program.

How can people in Brevard help?
There are so many ways for people to help!

• Volunteer! We are always looking for volunteers to help in our programs, participate on fundraising committees, or join our regional Board of Directors.
• Enroll family members into our programs
• Refer loved ones with a disability to our programs.
• Donate money or in-kind goods or services
• Help renovate a handicapped accessible restroom
• Attend one of our fundraising events:
– A Sweet Affair – February 12, 2005 at Rockledge Country Club
– Walk With Me – May 15, 2005 at The Avenue Viera

Thank you Leslie, for this information. Easter Seals Florida can only thrive when the community gets involved and lends a hand. We encourage all who read this to visit Easter Seals Florida online at www.fl.easterseals.com. Get informed about upcoming events and other opportunities for involvement

Contact: Leslie Gaskins via email at lgaskins@fl.easterseals.com or call (321) 723-4474, Ext. 3107

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