On Friday, hundreds of runners will be decked out in Day Glo gear for the annual Great Glow Run at North Hills to benefit Easter Seals UCP of North Carolina and Virginia.
Aimee Izawa and one of her three sons will be out there with glow-in-the-dark mohawks and all manner of illuminated ornaments in hand. Izawa tells me she's been collecting them all year just for this. Izawa knows well the good work that Easter Seals UCP does and is excited to support it at the Glow Run.
For the past 17 years, she's worked for the non-profit, currently as a program manager. Among her many duties, she helps adults with disabilities find work. Easter Seals UCP serves more than 20,000 people and their families each year. It connects children and adults with disabilities and mental health challenges with resources, housing, employment, education and much more.
But four years ago, Izawa saw the group's work through a new lens when her youngest son, Cody, started day care. At the time, Cody, then one, suffered from reflux and was having trouble eating. She and her husband were able to keep him at home for the first year, but she worried whether she'd be able to find a day care center where staff could chop his food up into tiny bites and spoon feed him.
Then Izawa talked to a colleague at the Charlie Gaddy Children's Center, one of Easter Seals UCP's nine children's centers, about her concerns. Her two other sons - now age 13 and 9 - had attended the group's children's centers at one time, but Cody was the first to need services.
The five-star center serves typically developing kids and those with disabilities. The colleague told her they'd have no trouble catering to Cody's needs.
"That was a huge relief," Izawa tells me.
Over the last four years, as Cody grew, his parents and teachers saw more delays. He knows his colors, shapes, ABC's and, like lots of other preschoolers, his mom's iPhone and iPad passwords, but he has trouble communicating and understanding what others are saying to him. And he's struggled with some sensory issues. He'll attend a special kindergarten class at a Wake County school in the fall.
"As parents we are always concerned for our children’s safety and well-being," she said. "When you have a child with additional support needs, it amplifies those concerns exponentially. I am extremely grateful that I have been able to use ESUCP as a resource and for supports."
Thanks to her work at Easter Seals UCP, Izawa knows that Cody's future can be great. High school graduation, employment, marriage and family can all be in his future, she said.
And the knowledge he gained at the Charlie Gaddy center has played an important part in getting him ready for school and beyond. There, the regular school day not only includes the usual preschool activities of stories and crafts and playtime, but daily work with speech, occupational and physical therapists, who all are on staff, Izawa said.
A speech therapist is there at lunch to work with him on eating. When the rest of his classmates are on the playground, an occupational therapist is there to help. When he and another classmate had to start wearing an eye patch, the other kids started clamoring for their own "boo boo eye patches" too.
For Izawa, the school's staff and other parents have served as a resource and sounding board, especially as she shared her own anxieties about Cody moving on to kindergarten.
"Gaddy has been very helpful with helping to address some concerns and fears," she said, "I can't imagine other parents who have to go through this and don't have these resources."
All of the proceeds from Friday's Great Glow Run will benefit children, adults and families overcoming disabilities and mental health challenges in North Carolina and Virginia through Easter Seals UCP. Go Ask Mom is excited to support the event. We will be out there starting at 5:30 p.m., Friday, with some fun glow in the dark giveaways.
Check the Great Glow Run's website to register and to learn more about Easter Seals UCP. We hope to see you on Friday!
Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.