Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Looking for Christmas

I went looking for Christmas today – and I found it...

in the kickoff meeting and tour for the Frankie Lemmon School's "Bright Futures Campaign".

I found Christmas in the faces of the volunteers; the staff; the teachers; the parents; and my "special friends."

No, I didn't find Christmas in the glitz and glitter.

I found Christmas in my heart.

Thanks to Lisa Wald for these amazing photos!

Monday, November 18, 2013

... I dream things that never were; and I say:"'Why not?"

In 1982, my daughter Patricia went to Kenya as a volunteer with Operation Crossroads Africa (OCA). In 1997, my daughter Diana followed suit and volunteered with the Peace Corps in Chad, Africa. It was a life-changing experience for both.

Were the experiences surreal? Yes. Did they struggle? Yes. Did they see the world in a whole new way? Yes.

And I'm incredibly proud of both of them.

They'd heard the clarion call of service. And – perhaps inspired by the words of President John F. Kennedy – they'd declared to themselves, "Other people see things and say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say: 'Why not?'"

American clergyman and humanitarian Dr. James Herman Robinson, while on a three-month trip to Africa in 1954, saw great opportunities for young Americans to help young Africans in need at the grassroots level.

Based on the belief that one can truly enter another culture only by living and working in it, by 1958, he'd established Operation Crossroads Africa (OCA), which aimed to "build bridges of friendship to Africa" by giving volunteers opportunities to serve. Now in its 55th year, the OCA has sent over 11,000 persons to more than 53 countries to establish teacher training programs and to help build water systems, schools, clinics, and orphanages in countless villages. The organization's motto is "make a difference for others, see the difference in yourself."

Instead of just asking himself "Why?" Dr. Robinson had taken it upon himself to find solutions by asking "Why not?"

Inspired by Dr. Robinson, President Kennedy, in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, famously said, "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." With Congress's passage of the Peace Corps Act on September 21, his Peace Corps became fully authorized.

His words had stirred a nation into action. Not only had they launched the race to the moon, but they had become the inspiration for the Peace Corps. Since 1961, over 210,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps, volunteering in 139 countries by providing technical assistance and by helping foreigners and Americans understand each other's cultures.

Kennedy, too, had dreamed of things that never were, and had said, "Why not?"

I, too, have a dream. On this 50th anniversary of JFK's death, my thoughts are with my "friends," the special needs children at Frankie Lemmon School in Raleigh, North Carolina.
What are "special needs"?
"Special needs are commonly defined by what a child can't do -- by milestones unmet, foods banned, activities avoided, experiences denied. These minuses hit families hard, and may make "special needs" seem like a tragic designation. Some parents will always mourn their child's lost potential, and many conditions become more troubling with time. Other families may find that their child's challenges make triumphs sweeter, and that weaknesses are often accompanied by amazing strengths." Terri Mauro
Two famous examples of "special needs children" who reached full potential come to mind: Albert Einstein, famed physicist; and Temple Grandin, listed by Time magazine in 2010 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Each had amazing strengths

The mission of Frankie Lemmon has "remained unchanged for 48 years…to help preschool and kindergarten children with special needs achieve their full potential." Eligible children, ages 3-6, rich or poor, can attend the school tuition free, thanks to generous private donations that provide 60 percent of the school's operating funds. (The state provides 40 percent.)

Although my friends are extremely fortunate to have such wonderful teachers and staff to help them reach their full potential, there are many more children who cannot get in.


The answer is simple; there are more requests from parents than the school has openings, and more demands for additional grades. Due to the rise in developmental delays and disabilities, the school has seen an unprecedented demand for their services – and all indicators are saying the problem is only going to get bigger. But the school can't add staff until they have more space. Without additional space, they are unable to hire additional therapists and provide more therapy services.

So, our school has special needs of its own, and the waiting list will continue to grow — unless each one of us can answer the same relevant questions President Kennedy asked us some 50 years ago:
"Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

"Other people see things and say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say: 'Why not?'"
— "Mr. Pat" Simpson, volunteer

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Triangle Run/Walk for Autism 2013

As most of you know, I volunteered over 4 years at the Frankie Lemmon School. Why? I was inspired by my granddaughter, now 20, who has high-functioning autism.

I was at the Autism Run/Walk in Raleigh on Saturday, October 12th, and videoed my version of the event. Why? Because those people inspire me too!

When I watched the video, I almost cried. And I made it myself! (Was it really that bad?)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Why the Caged Bird Sings

Each of these "disabled celebrities", along with countless others, were once thought of as "caged" by their disability. But they had teachers who cared, who recognized their abilities, who applauded them warmly from the wings. They were once "special children" who, with the help of someone who loved them, taught them, mentored them, became – if you will – "special disabled celebrities." Their teachers played a large part in helping these "caged birds" to sing.

Poet, actor and playwright Neil Marcus has dystonia and describes himself as a "fantastic spastic". He challenged conventional ideas about disability in his play, Storm Reading, voted one of Los Angeles' top ten plays of 1993. Harvey Jackins was the teacher that influenced him the most.

"The caged bird sings with a fearful trill" *

Helen Keller was blind, deaf and mute. Then "miracle worker" Anne Sullivan became her private teacher and changed her life forever. Helen Keller became an American author, political activist, and lecturer – the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
"of things unknown but longed for still" *

Albert Einstein, thought to have Asperger's syndrome, developed his Special Theory of Relativity with his famous equation "e = mc2". He unlocked mysteries of the Universe previously unknown. But he had help along the way. As a student in the University of Zürich, his German mathematics teacher, Herman Minkowski, had a major influence on his ideas.
"and his tune is heard on the distant hill" *

Andrea Bocelli is perhaps the greatest singer in the world. Celine Dion once said, “If God could sing, He would sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.” Blind since the age of 12, someone always guides him on stage to the waiting microphone – always to uproarious applause. Famous Italian tenor Franco Corelli was not only his friend and mentor, but his teacher. Click to hear Bocelli now!
"for the caged bird sings of freedom." *
Think back. Who was your favorite teacher? I have more than one. They are the teachers at the Frankie Lemmon School in Raleigh. I got to know them quite well during my 4 years as a volunteer there. In my opinion, they are more than teachers – they are saints in charge of teaching "caged birds" to sing. If you have a special needs child between the ages of 3-6, run, walk or crawl your little one to see for yourself how they'll interact with both teachers and students. Meet the staff. Take a tour of this fabulous school. You won't regret it!

Watch this utterly fascinating video of famous people with disabilities.
Careful! You may learn that some of them have the same disability as you!

* Maya Angelou ― I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Author Patrick Simpson and his wheelchair-restricted wife Anne uncover their experiences exploring historical and cultural experiences around the world. Visit now to learn how independent travel for disabled persons is not only possible, it can be fun!!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Mascot

The word mascot has been traced back to colloquial use in Provence and Gascony in France, where it was used to describe anything – animal, person, or object – which inspires and brings good luck. Even a garden!

September 11 is not only a day of remembrance, it has also become known as a "Day of Service", commemorated this year in Raleigh's News & Observer's front-page article: "Doing some good while doing time". It reported how inmates at Johnston Correctional Institution in Smithfield NC work the soil as their part in the "Plant a Row for the Hungry" program. They are learning gardening techniques and using them to raise food for charity. By eating what they produce, you may literally be taking – to quote McGruff the Crime Dog – "a bite out of crime!"

One prisoner said, "It’s like when you’re here, you’re not in prison. It’s like you’re on a little farm, for a couple of hours a day. It gives me something to do, keeps me out of trouble. And at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve done something to help somebody.” The garden has become his inspiration – his mascot.

Around that same time, Fox News reported a similar story from the other side of the world – Japan. The Asahikawa prison, located some 560 miles north of Tokyo has just become the first Japanese prison with a life-size mascot!

"Katakkuri-chan" is a 6-foot 6-inch humanoid with a huge square face and an enormous purple flower for hair. The mascot wears the uniform of a prison warden, (A female version has the same name).

Katakkuri-chan made its recent debut at an annual weekend fair at the prison. On Sunday it played with 1,700 children and visitors (up from 1,200 last year) who were able to buy handicrafts made by inmates, ranging from barbecue parts to TV stands and aprons. Katakkuri-chan is spearheading the jail's efforts to warm up their chill and forbidding image.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police has had its own crime-fighting mascot since the 1980s. Pipo-kun is well-loved across the nation and appears on posters and in crime prevention videos as well as on cell phone cases, notepads, erasers, mouse pads, T-shirts and key chains. A combination of several animals, he takes the best parts in order to be the best law-enforcement officer: his large ears help him hear people in trouble, an antennae to catch quick movement and large eyes to watch every corner of society.
He even has a stirring song on his website.

Now that's thinking "outside the box". Maybe U.S. prisons could try this!

Can you think of a way to do your own Day of Service? Here are three ways to think out of the box:
  • Draw a picture.
    Drawing a picture is more right-brained, and can help break your logical left-brain’s hold on a problem.
  • Work backwards.
    Start with a goal and think back through the steps needed to reach it until you get to where you want to be.
  • Ask a child for advice.
    Ask a child how they might tackle a problem in a way they can understand it. A child thinks and speaks with an ignorance of convention that is often helpful.
Think of it – You may solve world peace. You may come up with a new mode of transportation. You may discover a cure for cancer.

You may even come up with a cure for autism.

Now that, my friends, would be a truly extraordinary day of service. And you would be one humdinger of a mascot!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Autism Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Autism Yesterday

Autism Today
Where can I get help today?
Let me suggest three resources:

1. On the web:
In 1996 Karen Simmons (author, keynote speaker, and businesswoman in autism-related endeavors) had a vision to simplify the information gathering and evaluating process for families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorders for "help you need now." This amazing website seems limitless, featuring such diverse topics as:
  • Resources
  • Employment
  • "Ask the Expert"
  • Article Library (with over 2,500 pages of content)
  • Help packages for anyone who needs help for a special needs child
  • Much, much more
2. In North Carolina: For over 43 years, the Autism Society of North Carolina has worked to address areas of need and expand services for the autism community in North Carolina. ASNC is a statewide organization, supporting North Carolinians affected by autism. Every dollar that they raise stays within North Carolina, helping people who live and work in our local communities.

I have been fortunate; their headquarters are just three blocks from my home at: 505 Oberlin Rd #230, Raleigh, NC 27605. I have visited these kind, professional people many times for advice on a loved one. They have many resources, including a media library and a huge bookstore. Give them a call at (800) 442-2762. Their magazine, The Spectrum, is published in January and July.

3. In Raleigh: For pre-K children (ages 3-5) with special educational needs and their families, the Frankie Lemmon School and Developmental Center provides life-changing education and support that leads to successful participation in family and community life and achievement of the child’s full potential.

For over four years I volunteered here as "Mr. Pat" until my age caught up with me. So now I restrict my activities to those my body can handle. But with all my heart I can truthfully tell you that this school is truly blessed to have such talented and loving teachers, assistants and staff. They are all saints and I love every one of them. I'll never get these special children – my "friends" – out of my heart; nor do I want to. They'll grow up to be very special adults thanks to this very special team.

The Frankie Lemmon School: Looking Back 20 Years
by Jordan E. Harrell, video editor extraordinaire
Autism Tomorrow:
According to the website Autism Speaks, there's "A Future Full of Purpose and Dignity for Adults with Autism." I agree. My own loved one is living proof.

In other words, there's hope!

Again, according to Autism Speaks,
"Over the coming decade, 500,000 individuals with autism will leave school and enter adulthood. This is in addition to the millions of adults with autism who already live throughout the United States. Many of these individuals will need to access the adult services system, a system that already has exceedingly long waiting lists and few autism-specific supports."
Autism Speaks is among the top 10 autism websites listed in

Sunday, June 2, 2013

To My Friends in the "Fours"

It's been wonderful working and playing with you this year, my friends. And now you're going into the "fives". Much success to each and every one of you.

From left: Ms. Forbis, Ms. White, Ms. Haley

Ms. Rossi, Ms. Paula (with Nadia), Aidan

Audwin, Dustin, Franklin

Grace, Landon, Matthew

And many thanks, Lisa Ward, for so many of these wonderful photos.
Adieu, my friends, and God bless you all!
"Mr. Pat"

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Crazy hair and zoo animals

Who feeds zoo animals despite warning signs not to?
Who makes crazy hair and wears it to school?
Who hunts for lions in the piano?
We do!
And it's fun!

Hush my darling, don't fear my darling
The lion sleeps tonight
Hush my darling, don't fear my darling
The lion sleeps tonight

(from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by the Tokens.)

To review:
"Better to hunt lions than for the lions to hunt you!"
— Ancient saying (or it should be)

Neither is the playground a stranger to crazy hair and zoo animals.
(Thanks to Lisa Wald for these terrific photos!)

"Visualize a circus ring. Look at the lions and tigers – what are they doing? The lions and tigers have been taught to jump through hoops of flame. If we can teach elephants, lions and tigers to behave in public, we can certainly teach our children with disabilities to behave [and to do many other things] in public too [...even on a bad hair day]."
— Dr. Meena Hazra, pediatric neurologist from Virginia (formerly from India)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Springtime at Frankie Lemmon

Springtime Activities:

1. Hanging out the wash.

2. Learning to match the letters.

3. Dancin' and Singin'

4. Turning into beautiful butterflies.

5. Becoming really special children!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Cinco de Mayo Comes to Frankie Lemmon

Question: What do these three things have in common?

1. Guacamole: Made with avocado, cream cheese, diced tomato and lime juice. Some like it...some not sure!

2. Rain stick: Crumple aluminum foil into a large spiral. Pack it with rice inside a paper towel. Cover the roll with "sick tape" and packing tape. Sounds like soothing rain when turned end-to-end to music.

3. Maraca: Two plastic spoons (or craft sticks) and one plastic Easter egg containing dried beans that rattle, all wrapped in "Not your Mama's" fancy duct tape.

That's right! They are all ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, a special Mexican holiday!

What's Cinco de Mayo? Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May) celebrates a great and unexpected victory by the Mexican Army over the French Army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Today, people celebrate Cinco de Mayo in a big way. They have festivals and fiestas. They dance special dances and eat special foods. They make piñatas and wear colorful clothes...

Like we do!
(Thanks to Lori and Natalie for these photos.)

...and they play special music on special instruments.
Like we do!

And some us just went bowling.

The bowling was at Sparians Bowling Lounge, on St. Albans Drive (near North Hills Mall) on April 24. A BIG THANKS to Lisa Wald for these photos.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Transportation: It's All About Going Places

Now that we've got wheels, it's on the road again.
At least as far as Ms. Paula's roadhouse.
There's music and dancing to be had!

Then it's on to the Forbis & White Cafe:

Today's Menu:

Dustin Delicious Pizza
Matthew Massive Muffins
Aidan Apple Juice
Franklin Fantastic Fruit
Audwin Apple Pie
Nadia Nutty Cookies
Grace Gourmet Mix
Landon Lemon Cake

A big "THANKS" to volunteer Haley Bateman for the new sign and for today's celebrity menu!

Letterland Party
But wait! It's not over. On Friday, many of us came back for dessert. To celebrate a "Fabulous" year, Ms. J held a special Letterland Party in her Fabulous 5's classroom. Teachers and staff joined the five-year-olds and their parents on this, the last family school partnership day of the school year. Lots of dress-up fun and gifts. Lots of pizza and cake.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Transportation/Community Helpers

In music, a glissando is a glide from one pitch to another.

...or is it?

In our class, it's a race—faster than a shooting star.

Ready, set, zoooooooom!

Some community helpers help us feel better when we're sick, like a doctor or a nurse. Today, one of our friends, School Nurse Amy Daughtrey, came to talk to us about being a nurse.

For Munchkins only:
The award-winning Munchkin Fresh Food Feeder allows munchkins like Landon to enjoy food without the choking risk. All you have to do is put a piece of fruit, vegetables or meat into the mesh bag and snap it shut. Then munchkins can chew, suck and enjoy all the whole food goodness and taste, with only the tiniest, digestible pieces coming through. He or she gets great flavor and you get peace of mind.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Eggs, Chicks, Bunnies and…the Easter Beagle?

This week we looked for eggs.

And we counted – and ate – at least ten chirpy chicks, along with their peanut-butter haystack nests and Jelly-Belly eggs.

We also counted bunnies – and hopped at the same.

But, at last, the big finish came – and this is really thinking out of the Easter basket – with a visit from Rosie the Easter beagle. Rosie and her friend Bo came to wish us a Happy Easter. Bo, the buck-toothed Beagle, was wearing a rabbit on his head! (Warning: don't try this at home!)

Bo is not just any beagle. It turns out that Bo is the cover dog for a new book called That Dog Won't Hunt by Valerie Blettner. Rescued by Triangle Beagle Rescue of NC from a local shelter, Bo was surrendered to the shelter by his owner, a hunter, because he wouldn't hunt. Bo's story is just one of ten heartwarming stories of dogs saved by rescue groups.

Our thanks to Jeanne Ressner from Canines for Therapy – her visit was very much appreciated!

Monday, March 25, 2013

This Little Pirate

Arrrrrrgh! And what would be sailin' without a new pirate song?
Watch as we learn a new one, step by step.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Blarney-Stone Tales

Q: So just where does a leprechaun hide his gold?
A: Not necessarily under the rainbow. Those sneaky little leprechauns have hidden our gold and we’re on a hunt to find it!

It's a race to find the gold – and find it we do – in our shamrock haystack!

Speaking of races, there's a fabulous Irish derby going on this week. It's a fundraising event for Frankie Lemmon called Derby Days. We were visited today by NCSU's Sigma Kappa sorority sisters Chandler Miller and Madison Moss. Along with girls from other sororities, they were participating in Derby Days, Sigma Chi fraternity's annual fundraising event for charitable causes. Proceeds from this year's event, through sorority competitions, the sale of raffle tickets, alumni happy hours, dance competitions, etc. go directly to the Frankie Lemmon school. A new school, with more children served and more grade levels, is getting closer and closer!

Meanwhile, my friends are learning more each day.
This is a story of one of them.

Another fabulous event: Dancing with Bubbles.
Our thanks to Lisa Wald for these absolutely wonderful photos.

May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

— an Irish blessing

Friday, March 8, 2013

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk.

He'll probably ask you to read him a story, so, you'll read to him from one of your books.

And he'll ask to see the pictures and, when he looks at the pictures, he'll get so excited he'll want to draw one of his own.

What, then, can we conclude from all of this?

If you give a child a cookie, he (or she) will probably want to play the drum.

If you give the child a drum, he'll probably want to march in a parade.

If you give him a chance to march in a parade,
he may suddenly decide to lead the parade!

Question: What qualities distinguish those "ordinary" people who, in a spur-of-the-moment decision, take a leadership role? Can that instinct be taught or is it simply part of a person's makeup?

You decide.

Conclusion: Give a "special needs" child a chance—you may witness spontaneous leadership

even at age four !!