Category: My Chileda Story

A Graduate of Chileda’s Residential Program

By Tina M
May 11th

Submitted by Cara Capodice, Lauren Brasington, and Alexa Jaggi  (students in the “Digital Content Writing, Management, and Experience Design” Spring 2019 class at UW-La Crosse)

Alex, a graduate of Chileda, learned vital skills while enrolled in their Residential Program.  These skills allowed him to go from a completely dependent and unpredictable boy to an independent and successful young man. After his time at Chileda, Alex continued his education by attending college and is now living independently and working full time.

“Chileda is honestly the reason he is where he is now,” said Alex’s mother, Susan.

At the age of 8, Alex was diagnosed with autism. When his behaviors escalated to a crisis level at home, Alex’s family knew they needed help. “He had no sense of consequences. This is the kid I had to chase down one time before he ran into a busy highway. [He] just had no fear.”

Deciding to forgo public education, Susan began searching for alternatives to Alex’s education, specifically looking into residential programs.

After touring various facilities, she found Chileda. “You can tell that real things are happening there.”

“There might be holes in the walls where a kid threw something at it – they were just a very real place… He needed to be someplace without that institutional feeling, where the staff works with the kids one-on-one or takes them out [into the community]. We needed a place like that,” said Susan. 

While Alex was adjusting to his new lifestyle at Chileda, Susan recalls an important milestone he overcame. “At first, Alex would have a full-on meltdown when it came to meal time; he only ate a few foods. Through his time at Chileda, not only did he get used to eating other things, but he also ended up being a person who loves to cook.”  Although it was a rough start for Alex, he eventually began to adjust to a more structured environment.

“Once he was able to overcome the rebellious stage, I think ultimately he found comfort because he knew what to expect.”

During his time at Chileda, Alex had the opportunity to take part in regular coursework at Aquinas High School where he could take advantage of “a school environment and have the ability to interact with other students, which was really good for him.” 

A very important part of Chileda’s curriculum also allowed Alex to grow into a more self-sufficient individual, learning life skills including self-care, budgeting, and cooking, things that Alex’s mom explains are lessons that should be included in all education systems. 

When asked about the kinds of opportunities Chileda provides for students, Susan said, “they would go out to eat, to movies, or sometimes shopping. They also had an outing in the summer, a camp that was specifically for kids like Alex. He really enjoyed being a part of that. For Halloween, Chileda partnered with the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to go trick-or-treating in the dorms. Alex was also able to participate in various events like the Special Olympics. They really sought out a lot of opportunities.”  

As a parent of a child with autism, Susan never imagined her son would live anywhere but under her roof. 

Chileda equipped Alex with the tools and skills he needed to live independently, and they continue to provide support and share in Alex’s successes.

To encompass her feelings regarding Chileda, Susan said,

“I just think we are very, very lucky that Chileda exists and that we were able to find them.”  

If you were inspired by Alex’s story and want to learn more about the programs and services Chileda offers, please visit http://chileda.org/how-we-help/.

Peace: A Mother’s Journey to Tranquility

By Tina M
January 13th

Submitted by Madeline Hunsader, Judy Lor, and Samantha Stroozas (students in the “Digital Content Writing, Management, and Experience Design” Spring 2019 class at UW-La Crosse)

Karen Myrah struggled to balance daily life with caring for her son, Cavin, who has autism.

Both faced obstacles and hard decision-making that many others in similar situations may relate to.

Chileda has impacted Karen and Cavin in many ways, but the overall sense of harmony Karen has received from working with the organization has been the most rewarding experience in her life. Karen described Chileda’s mission as, “adapting to what students need and focusing on the future.”

Karen felt like there was need for a change after difficult life events occurred at the Myrah household. Karen explained that tensions at home continued to rise, creating a stressful environment for the whole family, especially for Cavin. His stress intensified because of his difficulty expressing feelings in healthy ways.

The situation progressed to the point where it was potentially unsafe for the family to be around Cavin. After researching and trying multiple ways to care for her son by herself, Karen realized that she needed more help than she was able to offer. Since Cavin was already a day student at Chileda, Karen decided to put Cavin into the residential program.

This change was a hard decision for Karen to make.

As a parent, one may think they know their child’s needs the best; however, Karen explained that enrolling Cavin into Chileda has shown her, “this is what he needed at that time to make him be more independent. They focused on Cavin and his needs, whereas at home it was more the family that I was focused on.”

Karen explained Chileda offers more than just “services.” She emphasized “the students, the autism, or the behavior, or whatever, they’re so individualized. … They’re flexible, and they watch out for every single student.”

“They’ve taken a bad situation and just calmed him and gave him what he needed.”

Karen Myrah
student at Chileda smiling while walking outside

Chileda works to create the most comfortable environment for student success. Karen explained Chileda has helped map out where students go next, and how they will live after Chileda.

During a residential stay, Chileda encourages students to grow and develop by promoting interaction between their peers and the staff. The day school program provides a safe and therapeutic environment that addresses individualized education goals. Both programs offer high-quality educational programs with an emphasis on helping children learn the social and behavioral skills necessary to help them become more independent.

Cavin participated in Chileda’s day program for almost two years before participating in the residential program. Karen said, “as a residential student, they got him back to the way that he used to be.” Chileda encouraged Cavin to be healthy and kept him moving.

If you would like to learn more about how Chileda can help you, call us at (608) 782-6480 or contact us online at: http://chileda.org/contact/.

My Chileda Story – Carrie

By Tina M
November 19th

Submitted by Carrie McIntyre, Former Chileda Employee

Hello! My name is Carrie McIntyre and I was an employee and the substitute leisure arts teacher for awhile at Chileda from 2011-2012. Though my time was brief, because I moved to Minnesota, I just wanted to give a quick shout out to how Chileda impacted my life greatly!

image of woman playing guitarI received my undergraduate degree with a double major of Theater and Vocal Performance with a music minor. When I moved to Wisconsin from Seattle I was looking for a job and answered the one I found in the paper for Chileda. At that point in time I was a working musician and taught lessons to children but mostly neruo-typical children. I had never given adaptive lessons before or worked with any children on the spectrum. So I was a little nervous when starting. I immediately fell in love and realized I had a gift of using music to connect with those kiddos. It was such an amazing experience that when I moved to Minneapolis I became a certified ABA Behavioral Therapist which then prompted me to my next chapter where I’m at now. I’m currently a Graduate Student at Colorado State University receiving my masters in Music Therapy with a concentration in ASD and early childhood. I would have never imagined ten years ago I’d be here.

Chileda played a huge part in showing me my true path to go down and I just wanted to give a huge thank you to everyone involved at this amazing place! Thank you so much.

Are you interested in earning your undergraduate or graduate degree? Chileda recently partnered with Purdue University Global! As part of this partnership, all Chileda employees and their immediate family members (spouses, domestic partners, parents, siblings, and children) will be eligible for a 14% discount off published tuitions for graduate programs and certificates and a 20% discount off tuition for undergraduate programs at Purdue University Global, Inc. Visit www.PurdueGlobal.edu for available programs.

Would you like to join the Chileda team? Check out our Employment page for available positions. Help us change lives!

My Chileda Story – Nick

By Tina M
May 17th

Submitted by Nick Maczek

I am a stepfather to two children on very different ends of the Autism spectrum.

My stepdaughter is still able to live at home. Her brother, on the other hand, cannot.

I was fortunate enough to have the choice to be a part of this madness. My wife, however, was forced into this. It has been harder watching what the struggles have done to her than actually dealing with the behaviors and other headaches. Mom has had to make some very difficult decisions. I have been with her through them all, but they all had to be her own decisions as a mom.

I was there when we had to first put our boy in the behavior hospital.

I was there the second and third etc. I was there when she decided to try meditation. I have been there through countless hours of therapy. I was there when we made the move to an alternative school.

Those decisions were extremely hard on mom. She, however, made it through them like a trooper.

Then came the decision to put him in residential. That was tougher than all the other decisions combined. Fortunately, at that time, he was only an hour or so from home.

While he was there, we would visit him every weekend, but our taking him out was very limited.

He got kicked out of one school while there. He got to the point that we were called several times a month that he was sent to the ER, either from aggression toward others, or self-injury.

Then came the call that my wife feared was coming, we were being told the residential facility was no longer able to keep him. We were fortunate that they kept him until another placement was found. It took over six months and over 60 rejections. Not one place in Illinois would take him.

Then a miracle happened.

We were told that a place in La Crosse, Wisconsin was interested in meeting him. Mom was both overjoyed and distraught at the same time. We were glad there was someplace out there for him, but the idea of being 4 hours away was heartbreaking. This was going to mean far less visits, and a hotel room, and a very rough ride with his sister who doesn’t like long car rides.

We took a ride up for a tour. The first thing we saw, pulling up, was a child being restrained, then we saw another inside. You may think this would be discouraging, but we were thinking just the opposite. We could see that the children were not being harmed in any way. We also instantly thought this is a good sign, they are used to dealing with kids like our son.

We were highly impressed with the tour. We decided right then to give this a chance.

Chileda student swinging with his teacher
Zack at Chileda with his teacher, Jessa

Thank God we said yes to this little place called Chileda.

In a very short time they began getting him off of some of his medications. We began taking him on overnights in hotels. We were finally getting our sweet boy back. The four hour ride became very tolerable. The quality of our visits had increased tenfold.

The smiles on his mom’s face melted my heart.

Thank you so much, Chileda, for all you do for our boy and for all the kiddos there. Thank you for giving us our Zacky back.

Learn more about Chileda and our services:
http://chileda.org/how-we-help/

My Chileda Story – Melissa and Jack

By Tina M
March 7th

My son Jack was at Chileda for nearly four years. He came home September 24th, 2017.

Jack gained so much during his time at Chileda and the number of excellent staff made such a difference in his life.

A week doesn’t go by where he doesn’t talk about Eric or Tim or Tyler or some other staff member that he looked up to. There were so many excellent staff that went above and beyond and realized that what they were doing was more than just a job. They were investing in someone’s life and truly making a difference. I believe Chileda’s success with special needs children is due to this fact.

Some things Jack learned were, how to cook basic food, how to stay on a schedule, how to respond in social situations and how to express his feelings. I’m amazed at how Jack will tell me how he is feeling about something and I just feel this rush of gratitude that a boy who never said how he felt has learned this important skill.

my chileda story
Melissa and Jack

What I know to be true is that Jack would not be successfully living at home without the life skills he learned during his time at Chileda.

Chileda is a very special place that treats children with disabilities in a hopeful and respectful manner. I am truly, forever grateful for all that was done for Jack while he was at Chileda.

Sincerely,
Melissa Overbo

My Chileda Story – Alli

By Tina M
January 23rd

Submitted by Alli Fiedler

As a six year employee, Chileda has drastically changed my life. I wish I could say that it was all sunshine and rainbows and always noticing the residents meeting their goals. As an outsider looking in, that’s what one would expect. The reality is, you don’t always make huge strides every day. What you do is learn to embrace the smaller changes. You notice that a student used the appropriate icon that day rather than showing you a random one.

By being around the students, I have become more patient, more aware of being kind in situations where the typical reaction is to be the most unkind, and more aware of how my actions cause a ripple. I am certain that while teaching the students things like math, board games and manners, they have also been teaching me about kindness, patience, respect and perspective. Since working at Chileda, my confidence has greatly improved, I am in general more mindful and am more aware of my own mental health. This is truly a unique place. Those who are in it, can never explain. Those who are not, will never fully understand.

A Mother’s Journey

By Tina M
December 12th

Imagine crying yourself to sleep at night and leaving your child in the hands of strangers. How would you feel?

This powerful story from a mother takes you on an emotional journey of a family’s love and desperation, telling how Chileda has been able to offer hope and love to not only their little boy, but also the entire family.


Sean and Kim

Dear Chileda,

I want to express to you the saving grace you have been for our son, Sean, and our family. Sean entered your facility on September 12, 2017 – a day forever etched in my memory! Hands down – one of the hardest days of my life.

We tried countless avenues to improve Sean’s Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Sean is mostly non-verbal and as time went on, he became more and more aggressive and violent. Sean would bang his head repeatedly on walls, doors, windows, objects, etc. many times each day. We had holes in most of the inside doors in our home, several holes in the sheetrock walls, and he even put his head through a glass clock on our wall. At least once a day, Sean would attack a member of the family. We had countless black eyes, scratched corneas, bruises, bite marks, etc. We looked battered, which we were, but who would have thought it would be from our own 7-year-old son – or brother?

We employed many, many people and organizations to help Sean, and help us help Sean. I kept a spreadsheet listing all the doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, teachers, etc. that had been involved with treating Sean. It became more and more apparent that something had to change. We could not continue on this path of destruction. We could no longer keep our daughter out of harm’s way, and she was terrified of her brother. She spent most of her time in her bedroom with the door locked. Our worst fear, to be separated from Sean, was seemingly to be the only way to implement behavioral change – according to the many professionals advising us.
I cried my eyes out for hours, trying to imagine Sean not living with us. How could we possibly “drop” Sean off somewhere and leave him? But that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t want to do it, but when our in-home staff refused to come to our home because of Sean’s aggression and violence, we felt we had no other choice. What was best for Sean and us in the long run?

From the first time I called Chileda and spoke to Terry (the receptionist), I felt a little more at ease. She was so kind and listened to me, answered my questions, and waited patiently as I tried to catch my breath through my sobbing tears.

The night before we were to bring Sean to Chileda, I didn’t sleep at all. I prayed that we were making the right decision and that the people we were entrusting to take care of our son were, in fact, “good” people. The staff at Chileda were waiting for us upon arrival and were very sensitive to the situation and our broken hearts. We toured the facility and found Sean’s bedroom and placed his clothes in the dresser drawers and played outside with him on their playground equipment, and left about an hour later. I was hoping I would die on the way home from a broken heart so as to no longer feel the pain. I feared he wouldn’t eat, or be able to sleep.

However, when we visited him for the first time two weeks later, he was happy to see us. He didn’t look the same, but he didn’t look bad. He wasn’t upset when we left. While I still cried all the way home, I was glad that he was still alive. Slowly the guilt over our decision gave way to encouragement that the staff at Chileda was better suited to take care of Sean, and teach him new skills to reduce his aggression and violence. It is very difficult to come to that realization as a parent – i.e., that someone ELSE is more qualified to take care of your child.

Sean has now been at Chileda for a little over 14 months. He is 9 years old. We visit him often.  While the visits will never be like it was at home, we walk away knowing he is well-cared for. Quarterly meetings with the staff indicate he is improving and reaching goals. I am no longer completely anxious while being around Sean. I don’t fear that he is going to hurt me. For some time, I would ask that a Chileda staff member stay with Sean and I in case I “needed’ their help. I no longer feel this is necessary.

Sean is comfortable at Chileda. He knows the routine and he knows the staff. While the staff in his house work with him on life-skills, his teacher and aides in the classroom work with him on educational skills, and they all work with him on developing skills to better deal with his frustrations and redirecting inappropriate behavior.

Sean with his teacher, Ms. Jane

All the staff at Chileda are exceptional. They ALL know Sean. We don’t know all of the staff, but they know, and LOVE, Sean. They see the funny things Sean does and his little tricks. He wants their love and hugs, and they are happy to give them to him. What more could we ask for right now?

Sincerely,
Kim


Friends of Chileda, I often refer to families like the one in this story as the “invisible people.” Kim’s family, like many families who have children with severe ASD challenges, live behind closed doors wishing and praying for someone to help. Many lack support systems to help and many live in isolation because all of their time and energy is spent trying to care for their child.

Chileda serves children and families who are often desperate for help. We provide hope when there seems to be none. We provide answers when there seem to be none. We provide support when there has been little.

In 2019, we would like to take a next step in our care for each family, improving each family’s experience when they visit our campus. Our current family visitation area lacks in size and hospitality. As you read Kim’s story you can imagine how important each visit can be for a family. We are planning a $90,000 renovation project to improve our building to better meet the needs of our families and create a safer and more hospitable area. This Christmas, would you please consider a gift to help us better serve our families?

We want to create the best possible environment for families like Kim’s and do our best to create a home away from home for each child.

Please partner with us in this project.

Sincerely,
Derek Cortez, PhD
CEO

My Chileda Story

By Tina M
December 5th

Submitted by Kasi Haglund, Executive Director at Adapta

I worked at Chileda around 2001 while I was attending the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.

I can honestly say there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think about my time at Chileda. It changed me both professionally and personally. I went on to get a degree in Social Work and I am now the Executive Director of a non-profit in Rochester, MN.

When training others I often use a scenario from my last day at Chileda. I frequently worked with a girl that was non-verbal and could be physically assaultive when frustrated. On my last day of work the lead staff was saying something about it being my last day… the young lady reached her arms up like she was going to hit me. I put my arms up by my head to block what ended up being an enormous HUG! She knew it was my last day. The lead staff and I both were teary eyed. To this day I get choked up talking about it. She forever changed me for the better.

That night after my shift I called my mom. I was crying so hard she thought something terrible had happened. I left a piece of my heart at Chileda that day.

The children at Chileda taught me more in a short time than all of my schooling ever could. I feel honored to have them as a part of my story.

Thanks for all you do!_________________________________________________________________________________________

Would you like to share your Chileda story? Please email Tina Majinski at tinam@chileda.org.