Easterseals, which provides education and resources for people with disabilities, got its start in Elyria 100 years ago. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution introduced by Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, which honored the nonprofit for its service over the years.
Edgar F. Allen founded what would later be named Easterseals on April 22, 1919, 12 years after his son and eight others died in a streetcar accident in the city. The lack of immediate care was blamed for some of the injuries and deaths. After the creation of Elyria Memorial Hospital, Allen started the Ohio Society for Crippled Children, which became the Easter Seals Society in 1935.
Sheila Dunn, Elyria-based Easterseals Northern Ohio’s president and CEO, said she was “shocked and excited” when she found out the resolution passed and had moved through the Senate quickly.
Easterseals had enlisted support from the U.S. House of Representatives in February. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, introduced a resolution Feb. 5 to recognize the nonprofit’s anniversary but it hasn’t been up for a vote yet.
“From early childhood intervention and education, to helping our returning veterans transition to civilian life, they never stop giving back,” Brown, D-Cleveland, said in a news release. “I’m proud this organization started off in Elyria, and I can’t wait to see all the good Easterseals does over the next century.”
Portman, R-Cincinnati, also praised Easterseals for its work and said he looks “forward to what they do in the next 100 years.” His deputy chief of staff and communications director, Kevin Smith, said the organization has “done such an amazing job for people with disabilities.”
Angela Williams, president and CEO of Easterseals, said its 100th year and the Senate resolution are opportunities to increase awareness of the nonprofit, which she called one of the “best-kept secrets.”
“It means recognition of the work that Easterseals has been engaged in for over 100 years, which is serving children and adults with disabilities,” she said. “…To have the honor of these two senators recognizing the work of Easterseals is extremely important.”
Dunn, who has helped plan the 100th celebration, said they consulted area groups who recently celebrated 100 or 150 years, such as University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center.
“You really get to find out as much as you possibly can about your history when planning, but the focus is really on the future,” she said. “To really wrap your head around that and go forward has been really exciting. … (Easterseals) has a wonderful place in our world. To know that we have enough legs to stand for another 100 years is amazing.”
A part of the future of Easterseals is the evolving technology for people with disabilities. Wheelchairs now have the capability to help people stand, and those with speaking disabilities now have the ability to use technology to help them hold conversations. Dunn said it will only continue to get better.
“You’re never going to be rid of disability,” she said. “It’s never going to go away. There will be all sorts of ways people will enter the world with disabilities. There’s a place for all of us. It won’t be life without disabilities, but it will be a better life for people with disabilities.”
About one in four people, or 61 million, have a disability in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Ohio, 23.3 percent of adults have some type of disability.
Easterseals provides early intervention services; speech therapy screenings; evaluations of children with communication or hearing issues; and care plans. Williams said it’s most important to identify issues from birth to age 5 for development and early intervention.
The nonprofit also offers medical equipment loans and holds a summer camp for children. Easterseals covers 27 Ohio counties and serves 47 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico and Australia.
Part of its centennial celebration included a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade in January. Williams said it was “thrilling” to see onlookers in wheelchairs or with other disabilities wave at the float from the crowd. The float won an award for best noncommercial float.
A luncheon is planned on the anniversary of the nonprofit, April 22, at the Transportation Center in Elyria, 40 East Ave. The celebrations will continue in May with walks at the Toledo and Columbus zoos.
To begin its centennial commemoration, Easterseals rebranded itself with new colors of orange and yellow and a new tagline: “All abilities. Limitless possibilities.” Dunn, who will retire in July, said Easterseals could not have gotten to 100 years without support from the surrounding community.
“It never ceases to amaze me the generosity of the community,” Dunn said. “Lorain County has always been very aware of the needs and is always very willing to help out. It’s humbling and phenomenal what we’ve been able to do.”