Working as a family at ESH

Text: Brandi Salas / Photos: Kaydee Johannsen

The staff at Easter Seals Hawaii (ESH) is not only made up of qualified professionals, but warm-hearted, caring individuals with a story of their own. Two ladies, Program Assistant, Liza Ganiron, and Activities Coordinator, Arlene Garo, share their experiences at ESH.

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ESH participant Joshua enjoys the social interaction and skills training he receives at the Ewa Adult Day Health Program.

At ESH’s Ewa Adult Day Health program on Oahu, the atmosphere is a bit different from the other Adult Day Health programs; it’s quiet, calming and serene, well-suited to the needs of non-verbal participants with developmental disabilities. The program is split into two houses. One is for medium functioning non-verbal participants; the second is for low-functioning non-verbal participants that need extra care and support. This program also supports those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The atmosphere requires a large amount of patience, skill and expertise to help participants achieve their goals and encourage independence.

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ESH’s Ewa Adult Day Health provides many activities and opportunities for adult participants in addition to skills training.

Among the staff working in small groups or one-on-one with participants, you’ll recognize Program Assistant, Liza Ganiron, by her laugh and sweet voice. Liza moved to Oahu in 1988 from her hometown Laoag City in the Philippines to be with her husband and family. She has been a Program Assistant at ESH for three years and she fell in love with the organization immediately. Her main responsibility is to support and transition participants between tasks and activities while helping them achieve their personal level of independence. When it comes to 25-year-old ESH participant, Joshua, Liza uses her most gentle voice and lights up when Joshua smiles back at her. “I teach him signs, feed him and care for him,” said Liza, “Josh is like my son.”

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“Working here in Ewa is like being in a second home,” said Program Assistant Liza Ganiron.

Also working with Joshua and other non-verbal participants is ESH Activities Coordinator, Arlene Garo.  Arlene was born and raised in Oahu and has worked for ESH for more than 13 years. Arlene has a strong medical background as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) and worked in a hospital. Arlene soon realized that she needed a job that didn’t require demanding hours but was also fulfilling and involved an area she was already familiar with. “I have a close cousin who had a developmental disability. I already have that background,” she said. Arlene has grown in her position at ESH. “I learned how to plan the days, work with staff and ask participants what they like to do.”

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Activities Coordinator Arlene Garo said, “If you could spend one day and experience the daily activities and special moments at our program, you will soon understand that we treat our participants as if they were our own family.”

As an Activities Coordinator, Arlene is responsible for keeping participants active and at their top level. This includes: monitoring participants, organizing activities (involving horticulture, cooking, communicating with pictures, using sensory experiences, etc.) and providing emotional support for parents or caregivers. “It is a fun job to be creative, learn and make people happy. Also, communication with parents is vital,” said Arlene. But she also adds that it takes a lot of dedication, “It’s not about money, it’s about love. My participants are the reason why I choose to stay with Easter Seals Hawaii.”

Joshua’s parents, Penny and Jim Ellsworth are happy with their son’s progress while attending the program at ESH. “We appreciate the Easter Seals Hawaii’s staff. They are genuinely concerned with respect to the families they serve. When they work with Joshua, they are consistent in all they do with him. We have seen such an advance in his everyday living skills. We have seen such maturity with him. They are very caring and giving.”

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The ESH Ewa Adult Day Health (ADH) program sits on two historic plantation home sites on Renton Road. It is one of three ADH programs offered on Oahu that offer participants a full-range of activities to choose from: daily excursions, art programs, volunteering in the community, computer classes with the aid of assistive technology, learning money skills, weekly hula classes, etc.   

ESH Maui participants contribute sustainable gardens at UH – Maui College

This past week, several of ESH Maui participants who attend the University of Hawaii – Maui College were involved in raising two garden beds on the campus. As part of the UH – Maui College sponsored program, Sustainable Living Institute of Maui (SLIM), the eco-conscious participants, Ben, Nathan, Howard and Corie, came together and decided to what plants to grow and share with others. They chose to grow an edible flower garden and others with herbs, fruit and vegetables.

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Ben, Nathan and Howard enjoy the time they spend in the serene garden environment.

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Nathan checks on their newly planted seeds.

The UH – Maui College funds the program Sustainable Living Institute of Maui (SLIM), which is geared towards developing and providing activities in various areas of sustainability such as renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. The program is involved in community outreach and workforce development that target K-12 and college-level students, teachers and faculty.

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Corie proudly poses next to one of their thriving gardens.

U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono visits Easter Seals Hawaii

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Senator Mazie Hirono immediately connected with adult participants at Easter Seals Hawaii’s Napuakea location.

“I continue to be impressed by the wide range of programs Easter Seals Hawaii provides to help meet the unique needs of our island communities. I strongly support ESH’s mission to create diverse classes, organize activities and provide opportunities for keiki and adults who benefit from these specialized services and programs,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono after her visit to the Easter Seals Hawaii (ESH) Napuakea location in Kapolei on Monday, July1st. “It was wonderful meeting with participants and seeing what they do and learn each and every day.” The tour was to observe the various functions of the organization and focus on the services and programs provided for children and adults with disabilities or special needs (participants).

ESH President & CEO Christopher Blanchard and the ESH Home and Community Based Services Director Craig Norton gave Hirono a complete tour of the facility.  Hirono visited Napuakea on a very special day – staff and participants were rolling out their new “college” type atmosphere.  She was able to observe a variety of classes being offered, including an American Sign Language class being taught by one of Easter Seals Hawaii participants.

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Program Assistant Luis Diaz-Crespo (back) and many participants shake the Senator’s hand while she greets them in The Pineapple Room kitchen named after Alan Wong’s famous restaurant. 

Blanchard said, “This is an opportunity to show our elected leaders and taxpayers exactly what we’re doing for our participants. Senator Hirono was touched and immediately connected with our participants. She truly wants to make a difference.” Hirono joined participants in their sign language class and learned a couple greetings, she also took a keen interest in the art that participants produce while attending their program at ESH. Norton added, “Our participants were so happy and honored to spend time with Senator Hirono, and what really stood out to me was how the Senator just walked right into each class and became just another member of the Easter Seals Hawaii Ohana – she became part of our mission.  It was pure joy to see the smile on her face as a participant taught her how to sign ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’.”

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Senator Hirono stands between her tour guides ESH President & CEO Christopher Blanchard (right) and ESH Home and Community Based Director Craig Norton (left).

The Napuakea facility currently serves as the headquarters for ESH’s extensive in-home and community-based services on the Leeward side of Oahu. Napuakea is equipped with large therapy rooms, a computer lab, a multi-media training room, an adaptive playground and an IT center.  Programs at Napuakea include Early Intervention, Adult Day Health, Support Services and Work Crew.