Before Gavin died... as in, just DAYS before, he was on fire. Something clicked - we could see it - and he suddenly started to walk more, interact more purposefully and make attempts to communicate. We had such high hopes for the future - for ours and for his!! I know that much of Gavin's success is owed to the therapists and teachers along the way that worked with him - and taught us how to help him. We have always had nothing but respect and love for these people - many of which are still a big part of our lives!! Before he died, Gavin was in a brand new special needs preschool classroom. They used space in our local Kindergarten Center and Gavin's little class was welcomed by the whole school.
I remember his first day meeting his new teacher, Miss Megan, with a smile on his face.
And I remember one of his last days there. The kids from the Kindergarten Center came out of their classrooms and lined the hall to cheer for Gavin as he walked down the hall. It was such a huge day. Ed took time off from work and we kept Brian out of school and we all celebrated this incredible accomplishment. I could cry just thinking about it.
Gavin was so, so proud of himself as he cut through that ribbon and was hugged and kissed by all of us.
Last week, there was another ribbon cutting at the Kindergarten Center - and we were invited to attend. They were officially introducing two brand new inclusive preschools to our county, Chester County, PA! One will be Gavin's old classroom, which I am so proud and happy about, and the other will be housed in our local public high school. Hope and I were dressed in blue to represent Gavin on this special day.
Representatives from the Chester County Intermediate Unit (where Gavin received his services when he was alive), the school district, the principal of the Kindergarten Center and Warren Kampf, one of our state representatives, were all on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
The classrooms will have typically developing and special needs children side by side - learning together and learning from each other.
It was a very special morning, for a variety of reasons, and I was thrilled to have my Mom there with Hope and me. You can see us in the front row! I was so proud of Hope for sitting and listening through several speeches and acknowledgements. She was so good!!
As I looked over at the faces of the current students that are in "Gavin's classroom," I got teary. They were all wearing matching tie-dyed tee shirts, which I am sure was a big, messy art project in school one day. I felt pride as I scanned their faces, just as I would have if I were scanning the group looking for Gavin's smile.
I certainly was NOT expecting this day to be even slightly about me, so I was extremely surprised when they called me to come up to the podium. Or should I say... called all of US! They gave me a lovely plaque to thank us for the money raised (so far) through Gavin's Trust Project. And they encouraged everyone there to visit the classroom later and look around at all the equipment, toys, communication devices and more that were purchased with that money.
A student from the class came up to present me (and Hope!) with flowers, which touched me even more.
At the end of the program, the students took the stage to perform a couple songs they had been working on.
Hope loved the show!! She was rocking and clapping and totally mesmerized. And I loved it, too, as I knew just how much practice and effort and therapy and pride were all wrapped up in every single note.
When the show as over, we all headed to the classroom for a visit. It was nice to see Miss Joanna, the current teacher, who started in the classroom after Gavin died.
I am sure I don't need to tell you how it felt to watch Hope play and explore "Gavin's classroom." (I can't stop referring to it as Gavin's classroom! He still feels there when I visit!) Hope walked in and made herself at home. She even took the hand of Deb Hiller (who is responsible for handling all the donations that come in to Gavin's Trust Project - among many other things!) and sat her down to play!! The mixing of my two worlds - less than two years after Gavin's death - was a hundred emotions combined.
We even got to do an art project together - creating a rainbow.
Hope felt like she had won the lottery when I let her control the glue stick AND use markers!
Gavin's presence is still in the room - not just emotionally, but really present. His photo and butterflies I saved from his funeral service are hung in the classroom.
And I've been told that the card with the blue butterfly - describing Gavin's Trust Project - is hanging in classrooms all over the county. It's also handed out to parents who receive equipment or toys purchased with money from the Trust Project.
If you click on the photo, it may be easier to read...
It was such a special morning at a school and in a classroom that means so much to us. When you walk into the Kindergarten Center, this is the first thing you see - framed handprints in all different colors. At the bottom it reads:
Every child instinctively knows what many adults have long since forgotten:
Our differences are not something to be tolerated, they are something to be celebrated.
As a special needs Mom, I know two things. I know that our son, Brian, is a compassionate and thoughtful child because he lived and learned side by side with his older brother. This is one of the reasons that I am thrilled about these inclusive preschools. It benefits everyone! I also know how hard - and EXPENSIVE - it can be to support these children at home and at school. Simple therapy aids to use in the classroom are a fortune!! This was exactly why I started "Gavin's Trust Project" after Gavin died and it's one of the things I am most proud of. Since April of 2013, the Trust Project has raised close to $30,000 - 100% of which has gone to the Chester County Intermediate Unit to support the special needs children in Chester County that they care for. It has opened and furnished brand new classrooms... purchased equipment for children whose parents may not have otherwise been able to purchase or acquire them... bought adapted toys and even communication devices and technology.
Gavin's Trust Project accepts donations 365 days a year and any little amount helps. Gavin's Granny sent a check to the Trust Project in the amount she would have spent on Christmas presents for her Grandson (who was one of 20 grandchildren!). The money was recently used to purchase a much needed weighted blanket for a student who needed help getting settled. This may seem like such a small thing to some - but trust me, it was huge. You can read more about Gavin's Trust Project HERE or you can make out a check to CCIU and put "Gavin's Trust Project" in the memo. Mail it to:
Chester County Intermediate Unit
c/o Deb Hiller
455 Boot Road
Downingtown, PA, 19335
Congratulations to everyone involved in helping these inclusive preschools go from dream to reality.
And thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for continuing to include Gavin and our family as you set up his friends for a brighter future.