dad stirring melted crayons in pot

The Crayon Initiative Redistributes Restaurants' Leftover Crayons to Children's Hospitals

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In 2011, Bryan Ware was enjoying his birthday dinner at a restaurant with his wife and two sons. He was watching his kids draw on the paper tablecloth with crayons their server had given them. A thought struck him.

“I wondered, ‘What happens to these crayons after we leave if we don’t take them with us?’” Ware, who lives in the San Francisco area, told The Mighty.

He later questioned a restaurant employee and was dismayed to learn that every crayon put out on the table had to be thrown away after the table’s customers left — whether it’d been used down to a nub or left completely untouched. Convinced the crayons’ lives didn’t have to end so early, Ware started taking restaurant crayons with him. He made it his mission to come up with a way to get the unwanted crayons into as many children’s hands as possible.

Two years later in 2013, Ware founded The Crayon Initiative, a nonprofit organization that repurposes old unusable crayon wax into new crayons and distributes them to children’s hospitals across California.

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Photo from The Crayon Initiative Facebook page

First, Ware collects old crayons from restaurants, schools and acquaintances. He separates them by color, melts down the wax and molds the melted wax into new crayons.

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Photo of the melted crayon wax via The Crayon Initiative Facebook page

Next, Ware puts the melted wax into a one-of-a-kind crayon mold. The mold, which is large and triangular rather than small and circular, was specifically designed with help from an occupational therapist to be easier to grip for small children and kids with special needs.

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Photo of the crayon mold via The Crayon Initiative Facebook page

The company then puts the new crayons in boxes and delivers them to children of all ages who are in the hospital for any reason.

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Photo from The Crayon Initiative Facebook page

So far, The Crayon Initiative has donated more than 2,000 boxes of crayons to children’s hospitals. In September 2015, Ware made his first out-of-state delivery to a hospital in New York City. He hopes The Crayon Initiative can continue to expand and bring crayons to kids in hospitals all over the country.

Ware also hopes these crayons can help children in hospitals express themselves artistically, continue normal childhood development and communicate through drawing what they may not be able to say verbally. But more than anything, he hopes he can play some part in making their hospital stays a little easier.

“From my perspective, the biggest goal is to give them an escape,” Ware told The Mighty. “I can’t even fathom what these kids are going through. If these crayons give them an escape from that hospital room for ten minutes, we did our job.”

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Photo courtesy of Bryan Ware
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Photo courtesy of Bryan Ware
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Photo courtesy of Bryan Ware

To learn more about The Crayon Initiative, visit the organization’s website and Facebook page.

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5 Things I Wish Parents Knew About Respite Caregivers

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I have a voice in the special education community that is not heard from as much. That could be for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because respite care looks different for every family.

For the readers who don’t know, respite care is free government-funded childcare for children with an intellectual or developmental disability. My job includes specialized care for children with low-incidence disabilities, basic house cleaning, providing an empathetic ear for stressed-out parents and a being confidant for siblings of a child with a disability. 

Parents are allotted a certain amount of free childcare hours a month, depending on the disability and other factors. Sometimes respite can happen at a facility such as the Arc or another local non-profit, or it can be an individual provider. Me? I’m a senior in college learning the ropes of special education.

My first job out of high school was as a respite caregiver for twin boys with high-functioning autism, and I immediately got hooked into the special education community. I take my job very seriously. Since then, I’ve worked with more than 75 children with disabilities, ranging in everything from autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, OCD, bipolar disorder, fragile X syndrome and many more. 

I’ve seen families go through extreme hardships, clients gaining communication skills and everything in between. Bruises and tears are regular, but seeing a client hit a milestone makes up for it. My boss put it perfectly the other day; my four-hour shifts are equivalent to an eight-hour shift. I give my 110 percent every day, and I wouldn’t change my job in a heartbeat for a regular “college job.”

With that said, here are five things I wish parents knew about my job:

1. I’m not a babysitter.

This is a big one that always comes up in conversation. I may change diapers, take my clients out on community adventures and administer medicine, but in no way does that make me a babysitter. A babysitter might put on a movie and play with their phone until the parents come home. I do my best to make sure my clients are actively engaged in goals that are supplemental to their IEP or IFSP goals. I’ve taught my clients how to use ASL as a communication tool, how to use the restroom correctly and neatly and how to participate in community events.

2. I may teach, but I’m not a teacher.

A special education teacher works with multiple kids at a time, not just one-on-one. A special education teacher stays after school long after his or her shift is done for IEP meetings to ensure her students are getting the education they deserve. A special education teacher is an advocate outside of the classroom as well, educating the public about eliminating the R-word. But most importantly, a special education teacher works with a broken system and bends the rules as far as they go to get progress due to limited funds. I haven’t earned that privilege of becoming a teacher yet, but I’m working really hard to become one.

3. Your joys are my joys, too.

When your child is sent home from school after having a meltdown, I’m feeling your pain right there with you. When your child communicates his first word, I’m jumping for joy with you. This isn’t just a regular 9-to-5 job for me. I think about your kids all the time, whether or not I’m working that day. I wish the absolute best for you and your family, and I’ll do whatever I can to make your child as successful as possible.

4. I don’t know everything about special education, but I’m learning quickly.

I got thrown into the world of special education at a relatively young age very quickly. There is still a lot I don’t know about special education, such as how to advocate during IEP meetings, how to use “first, then” language when transitioning to new activities and how to de-escalate a meltdown. I’m learning as fast as I can, just as you had to do when you got the diagnosis. Think of respite as a “paid internship.” Teach me the ropes, and I’ll learn with you!

5. Parents: You deserve a break!

I know, one bad respite experience can ruin any chance of asking for help ever again. I’ve heard of so many poor quality respite providers who don’t have the passion, the drive, the energy or the stamina to do this challenging job. But just as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Let us help you. I get the privilege to go home at the end of an especially hard day — you don’t! The least I can do is let you escape to a movie every once in a while and know your kids are in good hands.

Katelyn Castro the mighty.2-001

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Dad Builds Elaborate Costumes for Kids in Wheelchairs... for Free

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When Reese Davis was 3 years old, his favorite movie was Pixar’s “Wall-E.” He wanted to dress as the movie’s title character for Halloween that year. But Reese, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at 2 months old, uses a wheelchair to get around. His parents knew that finding a costume in a store to fit Reese’s wheelchair would be impossible.

So Lon Davis, Reese’s dad, took matters into his own hands. He and his wife Anita Davis built their son a Wall-E robot costume from scratch that fit over the top of his wheelchair. It even featured mechanical arms Reese could operate from inside the costume.

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Photo of Reese’s Wall-E costume from the Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes Facebook page

Every year after that, Reese would come up with a creative idea for his costume and his dad would figure out a way to make the design work with Reese’s wheelchair. Within a few years, Davis and Reese had come up with numerous elaborate costume designs, one of which was featured on Fox News in April 2015.

It was around that same time that Davis was asked to show other families how to make costumes like the ones he’d made for Reese at the 2015 Planet Comic Con event in Kansas City, Missouri. Davis realized many families would not be able to justify the cost of buying materials to make the costumes, and he wanted to find a way to help.

“That’s when we decided, ‘What if we make them for free for these families?’” Davis, who lives and works near Kansas City, Kansas, told The Mighty in an email.

In spring 2015, he launched Walkin’ & Rollin’, a nonprofit organization that creates costumes for kids who use walkers and wheelchairs — free of charge. Families can request a costume through the Walkin’ and Rollin’ website, and Davis works with that family to design a costume based on what the child wants. First, Davis creates sketches and design concepts and sends them to the child to approve. Then, with help from Reese, now 10, he gets to work constructing the costume out of materials like cardboard, PVC pipes and other lightweight craft supplies.

“A lot of what Reese helps with is helping me to understand what works for a child in a wheelchair and what doesn’t,” Davis told The Mighty. “When I build a costume for his chair, he will give me hints like, ‘No, you can’t do that because then I can’t reach my brakes for my chair,’ or ‘If you attach that bar here instead, then I can get in and out of my chair easier.’”

Davis and Reese are currently working on building the costumes for children to wear this upcoming Halloween. In the months leading up to the holiday, Davis will hand-deliver the costumes to the children and their families. His first delivery will be a Mickey Mouse costume for a 2-year-old boy.

“The [families’] reactions to the initial sketches I sent are pure excitement,” Davis told The Mighty. “They can’t wait.”

Because his costumes usually require multiple fittings during the construction phase, Davis hopes to establish a network of volunteer builders around the country. That way, he can more easily get costumes to children outside the Kansas City area. He also plans to expand the Walkin’ & Rollin’ YouTube channel to include instructional “How to” videos so families can build costumes for their children themselves.

Whether it’s by teaching families to build costumes on their own or designing and constructing the final products himself, Davis’s ultimate goal is to get these costumes to as many kids as possible.

“My son recently told me that he doesn’t think of his wheelchair as a wheelchair. He thinks of it as part of him. Where ever he goes, the wheelchair goes,” Davis wrote on the Walkin’ & Rollin’ Kickstarter page. “So when Halloween comes, he wants all of him to dress up, including his wheelchair. I don’t think my son is the only kid who thinks that way, do you?”

Take a look at more Walkin’ & Rollin’ costume designs and final products in the photos below.

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Reese showing off his Baymax costume from the movie “Big Hero 6.” Photo from the Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes Facebook page
Batmobile
Photo of Batmobile costume sketch from the Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes Facebook page
Belle
Photo of Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” costume sketch from the Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes Facebook page
Captain America
Reese in his “Captain America” costume. Photo from the Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes Facebook page
ToyStory
Reese in his “Toy Story” costume. Photo from the Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes Facebook page

Walkin’ and Rollin’ Costumes will hold its first costume-building workshop in Kansas City, Missouri, on September 13. For more information about the event, head here.

To learn more about Walkin’ & Rollin’ costumes, to see more design ideas or to sign up as a volunteer builder, visit the organization’s website and Facebook page. The company’s Kickstarter campaign, which has already raised more than double it’s goal amount, runs through August 31.

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I’m a Special Education Teacher. Here’s What I Want Parents to Know.

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Dear Parents of Children With Special Needs,

I just want to start off by reminding you that you’re strong and incredible parents and human beings. You spend countless hours during your days and nights, making sure your child has every little thing he or she will need. In daily life, you have become more prepared, patient and empathetic people because of your unique family situations.

The new school year is quickly approaching and you must feel like a nervous wreck. Sending your children to school can sound so frightening; you’re basically starting from scratch, finding a positive learning environment that will meet your child’s needs and still make him or her happy, as well as having to build trust with a new staff all over again. I completely get it! I have a twin brother living with autism. He’s 24 years old, and I still feel this pit in my stomach every time he tackles something new.

As a special education teacher, I want what is in the best interest of your child and so much more. During the weekends, holiday breaks and teacher planning days, I miss your children! I wonder what they’re currently up to and how they’re doing. They start to consume most of my thoughts throughout the year, inside and outside of school. I’ve become empathetic with each and every child to the point that everything they go through and you go through, I feel like I go through it with you all, too.

Sure, some days are more difficult than others. On the difficult days, I may feel defeated, just like you may have felt before. On the fantastic days, I cry; the tears that come out are happy tears. I may push hard for progress on certain occasions because I feel I have an understanding as to what your children are capable of. I get pure joy out of witnessing any and all of the progress from your children. I want to be in constant communication with you and try my best to end my daily notes and evaluations of your kids on a positive note.

In the end, all I want is to build a loving rapport with your children and help them make leaps of progress into being the most independent, productive and well-rounded individuals they can possibly be. What initially motivated me to be a great teacher was the fact that I wanted to be the kind of teacher I’d want my brother to have in his classroom. I believe every teacher has their own motivations to be successful professionals.

I’m aware of the time and money you spend for education, doctors, therapists, social groups, medication, equipment and special foods. I also constantly think about you and how we can be helpful to you all. I love your children and truly admire your strength and dedication you’ve had throughout their whole lives. Stay strong and mighty!

Sincerely,

Nicole Whitman

Photo of the author, a young woman smiling in front of a road.

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Teens Build Special Video Camera for 13-Year-Old Born Without Arms

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Haley Horn is passionate about visual media and writing, and the 13-year-old Georgia native has her sights set on someday working in the entertainment industry.

When she started summer camp at The Green Room in Atlanta this July she was beyond thrilled to collaborate with other kids and produce a music video, but there was one obstacle to overcome. Hayley was born without arms, so holding a camera was going to be a bit of a challenge. But the people at re:imagine/ATL, the nonprofit behind the camp, found a way to make Haley’s dream become a reality.

Re:imagine/ATL founder Susanna Spiccia reached out to STE(A)M Truck, a mobile lab where art and technology professionals work with kids to design electronics and digital art. Spiccia asked if the organization could help create a camera for Horn, but she wanted to make sure the teens at STE(A)M truck were heavily involved in the design process. Not only was STE(A)M truck eager to accept the offer, but they quickly handed off the task to several youngsters at the Harland Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta. The team had access to a 3D printer, laser cutters and soldering stations, and after a few attempts they finally came up with the perfect solution for Haley.

The device they created rests on Haley’s right shoulder, and she uses her feet to control the attached Sony video camera. From the extra padding to the flashy paint job, it was perfect for the aspiring videographer’s needs.

Janiyah Favors, 13, who worked with STE(A)M Truck on the project told CNN, “It felt great. It felt nice to help Haley with her dream.” After Favors and her partner Kris Pilcher presented the shouldercam to Haley, the teen spent the whole week shooting footage for the camp’s final project. A number of her scenes are featured in the video, and she plans to continue pursuing her passion for filmmaking. Haley’s mom told CNN Haley wants to make a video about their new home, and that’s only the beginning.

“Just watch,” an excited Haley says in the CNN video above. “Watch me.”

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Why I Grieve for a Child I Haven't Lost

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As I sat on the bench in a public park, the tears came easily. Watching little toddlers peddling trikes and mothers chatting to babies. Seeing preschool children laughing and chatting as they wheeled around the water on their brightly colored scooters.

It has been building for a while.

The night before last it was anger and hurt as a friend shared how her 14-month-old was defiantly talking back when they were trying to get her to bed. I wanted to scream and say, “But she understands! But she talks!” Instead I mourned silently.

The world goes on while I grieve for a child I haven’t lost.

It is a very different pain to others. I know the pain of not having children. I know the pain of losing a yet-to-be-born baby. I know the pain of losing someone very close. I know that feeling of despair and anger and hopelessness. People understand when they know you have loved and lost.

But how do you explain you are grieving a child you have not lost?

I get to read to my son. I get to bathe him and dress him and kiss him. I hear him laugh when I tickle him and get to push him on the swings at the park. He goes to school. He will watch a video sometimes. And yet I feel he is lost.

I have yet to hear his voice. I grieve for the conversations we might never have. I grieve the fact I might never hear him sing or shout or chat with friends like those little ones in the park. I grieve for the fact I might never hear him tell me a joke or talk to me about his day at school. I grieve for the loss of never hearing him whisper “I love you.” I can only dream about what his little voice may sound like, how it might grow in depth and tone as he aged, what sort of accent he may have had or how he would pronounce names of people he knew. A part of him might never be. And I feel the loss and pain of that.

I grieve for all the milestones I have missed and may never have with him. As I watched a mom bend down to hold her son’s hand today to help him walk, I thought about how much she might take for granted. Her little one was not much over a year old and yet he confidently held her hand to take some steps. By the time my child did anything like this, he was tall enough that I had no need to bend and his hands weren’t as tiny as her son’s. I have skipped the toilet training, the bike riding, the learning to read and write, the school plays, the attending clubs and the having friends. We haven’t experienced things others take for granted and that I believe should be part of childhood. There is a loss and a sadness for times that might have been but might never be.

There is sadness that I cannot walk him to school or that he cannot go to school with his twin sister. There is pain relying on others to tell me about his day when I should hear it from him. There is heartbreak watching the neighbor’s child of the same age jump on a trampoline and my son cannot balance on one leg, let alone jump. There is a lump in my throat when people ask what my child wants for Christmas and he still plays with baby toys at almost 7. We have never experienced the tooth fairy with him, he has no concept of Santa Claus and neither chooses his own clothes nor has the ability to dress himself. He has never said, “Mommy can I have” or gotten upset because he cannot go out to play. He has no friends his own age and doesn’t get invited to parties.

He is here, but to many he isn’t.

I have a son. He is my pride and joy. I am so proud of everything he does. But I still grieve for him, for the things he might never achieve and the experiences he might never have. And I grieve for myself as a parent when I see a world of parenting I can only ever dream about.

As I sat on a bench in a public park, the tears came easily — tears of heartache and anger, tears of frustration and pain.

It is all part of the journey. Before I can move on I need to grieve for the loss. And grieving takes time.

So please forgive me and support me. Life goes on and I understand that. I have no bitterness at that.

But sometimes those tears are needed. Bear with me as I grieve for a child I haven’t lost.

Follow this journey on Faithmummy.

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