The Studio Blog Archive
A few posts we've written over the years
This year, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be celebrating the 45th anniversary of the Blarney Breakfast. The event has experienced many changes over the years and grown into one of the longest running special events in Wichita. However, one thing has remained the same, the steadfast support of the community to support children with special needs at Rainbows.
The Blarney Breakfast is personal to me because over 41 years ago my son, Brandon, received services at Rainbows. My friend Linda Weir Enegren started Rainbows in 1972 because she believed children with special needs could be successful living at home with their families and I too supported that philosophy. Two years later, in 1975, KAKE TV & Radio launched a letter writing campaign to select a charity to receive the Blarney Breakfast and my letter was chosen. Here I am, 45 years later still working on the breakfast with my sorority sisters Chi Epsilon Chapter of ESA in support of children with special needs and their families.
Over the years, the enthusiasm for the Blarney Breakfast has never wavered. It is the one time a year the entire community comes together, from TV and radio personalities to celebrity guests, Rainbows’ families, Irish entertainers, Chi Epsilon members, and the wonderful staff at Old Chicago.
I had no idea the power my letter would generate 45 years later – $514,000 total raised for Rainbows, over 11,000 children with special needs served through the years, 68 Chi Epsilon volunteers dedicated time, 71,000 cups of coffee poured, and more than 50,000 community members attended the breakfast.
I must admit at times, it’s a little crazy but probably one of the most fun events you can attend. So, come see for yourself!
Alexia Foster, Infant/Toddler Services
I started working at Rainbows in the Sedgwick County Infant/Toddler Services program almost 18 years ago and I can’t imagine ever leaving. I was hired as a Social Worker, moved on to being the Assistant Coordinator and last month I accepted the position of Coordinator. Let me tell you how it came to be that I fell in love with this program.
For those of you who don’t know, Infant/Toddler Services (ITS) comes under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). ITS is special education for children ages 0-36 months and Rainbows is the ITS provider in Sedgwick County. We have a staff of about 50 people. The children we serve have a developmental delay. We work with babies who have been born too early or have a complicated diagnosis. We work with children with hearing impairment or vision impairment or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Sometimes we work with children who are developmentally delayed and no one knows why. Their parents are scared or exhausted or overwhelmed. And that is where ITS comes into the picture. We are there to help not only the child, but the whole family.
ITS helps parents address their child’s developmental delay by providing services like Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Special Instruction. IDEA says our services must be delivered in the child’s natural environment, usually the child’s home. And the law in Kansas says our services must be provided at no cost to the family.
You see, I am a social worker by trade; I went to school to learn how to help people. Now that you know what ITS is you can see how I immediately fell in love with the idea of ITS. But the idea of something isn’t enough to keep a person hooked for 18 years. No, what has kept me here is the people. The families we serve and the staff that serve them have made me stay in love.
No parent chooses to have a child with special needs. It can and does happen to anyone. Working with families is sometimes very difficult, situations are challenging. It is hard emotionally to watch children struggle to eat, breathe, walk. It is painful to watch a parent struggle to meet the many needs of their medically fragile child. Sometimes, no matter what we do, the diagnosis is just too difficult to overcome and a child passes away. Since taking this job I have seen my share of pain; watching a child with Down Syndrome develop Leukemia, witnessing a family welcome their second child with a terminal disease, attending a child’s funeral. In ITS we see the grace that families show, despite insurmountable odds, to the world around them. When many others would be angry or bitter about the difficult circumstance facing their family, the families we serve show compassion, acceptance and love. We, in ITS, are privileged to walk alongside them.
In addition to working with amazing families, I get to work with amazing professionals. Every day I am reminded how dedicated the staff in ITS is to helping families. I regularly have staff doing home visits at 7:30am or 5:30pm so that they can meet with a working parent. Staff ask me, “Can I please continue to serve this child who has moved out of my service area? The family has gone through such a difficult time. I don’t want to add to their stress by changing providers.” I have staff who offer to go to doctor appointments with a parent, so that the parent feels supported when meeting with a specialist. ITS staff helps families identify what medical equipment might help their child. Then they help families find funding for that expensive piece of equipment. Last month a staff member asked me if they could see a child on their caseload more often than was prescribed on the child’s plan. I asked the staff member if she thought seeing the child more often would improve development. She said she thought it would help the child and I agreed to increasing frequency. The staff in ITS make decisions everyday with the child and family’s best interest in mind and I love them for it.
Now that I have explained why I am in love with this program you can see why, when approached, I had to accept this new position as Coordinator for ITS Sedgwick County. I couldn’t say no.
I am a big Mr. Rogers fan and I couldn’t wait to hang up a poster with my favorite Mr. Rogers quote in my new office. The poster has a picture of Mr. Rogers and it says; “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” That is why I love this program. There are always people helping.
Written by Alexia J. Foster, Infant/Toddler Services Coordinator
Winter in Kansas can be long and gray, but February 14 is set aside to brighten spirits by remembering all the people who make life special, like family and friends. If you are looking for fun and simple things to do with your whole family, here are some tips to make this year’s holiday a special one.
Decorate card boxes
Sometimes your students will decorate Valentine mail boxes during class time, but more and more often, they are expected to come to school with them already made. Few of us have time for a large craft project on a school night (or more than one), so here are some cute and quick ideas for accomplishing that little task.
Serendipityandspice.com has amazing and artistic ideas from really simple to major wow-factor in Valentine boxes. Check out the Darth Vader and unicorn ones! A fun bumblebee makes an ultra-simple Valentine box and it starts with an oatmeal container. Last year, I received a mini lavender mailbox with candy in it for Valentine’s Day. After a trip to the craft store, I made a cool custom letter carrier for this year’s celebration.
Have you tried using an empty cereal box? Shoe boxes may be harder to come by in your house, but cereal boxes are always there. You can even use the cereal to make sweet valentine cards. If your child wants to share unique valentines with their friends, buy the single cereal variety packs and add a plastic spoon with a rubber band or invisible tape.
Strawberry Valentine Chex Mix is a sweet, crunchy treat to make with your kiddos. Start with four basic ingredients (Chex cereal, baking chips, pudding mix and M&Ms) and then let their creativity take over. Try adding sprinkles, nuts, marshmallows or pretzels. Portion into cellophane treat bags or plastic baggies and share with friends and neighbors.
For a healthy holiday, put strawberries and bananas on skewers and dip into yogurt. Hummus and veggies or cheese quesadilla hearts make tasty gluten-free snacks. Switch out conversation hearts for cuties with hand-written custom messages.
I adore making Love Bug Oreo Cookies for Valentine’s Day. They always bring smiles to my friends’ faces. Try using the vanilla, thins or mini cookies, too. Vary the candy melt colors of white, red or pink and play with different types, colors and shapes of sprinkles
If enjoying a video on the couch sounds like the perfect Valentine’s entertainment, head to the produce section of your local grocery store first. Buy fruits and veggies that can be cut into heart shapes with a knife or cookie cutter. Add assorted cheeses, luncheon meats and crackers or a sourdough loaf. Place it all on an over-sized platter or cutting board. Flavored olive oil or a sour cream herb dip will complement all those fresh flavors. Don’t forget a sparkling beverage and chocolate truffles. You won’t have to leave the sofa for hours!
Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! By Laura Numeroff is a perfect read-aloud board book for preschoolers. From the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie series, Mouse makes valentines for each of his friends in this volume.
Caldecott Medal winner Eve Bunting wrote The Valentine Bears in 1983 and it is beloved by millions of early readers all these years later. Classic artwork by Jan Brett highlights the sweet story of Mr. and Mrs. Bear waking up early from hibernation to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Mr. Brown’s bookstore is so busy; he has to hire an assistant. Miss Button is the perfect fit and may be the perfect Valentine match, too. The Bookstore Valentine by Barbara Maitland will be your young reader’s favorite book of the year.
10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston may be set during the Christmas season, but it’s all about love. Sophie’s family sets her up on blind dates after she is dumped during the holidays. This book would be a good fit for young adult readers.
Whatever way your family chooses to celebrate Valentine’s Day, make it memorable by snapping a few selfies to put up on the fridge and enjoy your time together!
Mental Health Specialist Alice Boutz has always had a passion for early childhood and early interventions. “I’ve had two family members that have received early childhood interventions in the Kansas City area,” she said. “After first hearing about Rainbows when I moved to Wichita in 2012, I felt like it was the place I wanted to be. I value the agency’s mission to enhance the lives of children with special needs and their families.”
Alice has a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation Services Education from Emporia State University, and a Master’s of Social Work from Wichita State University She is also licensed in the state of Kansas as a master’s social worker (LMSW). “Once I finished graduate school and got some experience in mental health, I was able to start my career at Rainbows,” she said. “I’m constantly seeking learning opportunities to further my knowledge of early childhood development and mental health.”
Before joining Rainbows, Alice worked as a case manager in child welfare and a mental health therapist for children and families at St. Francis Community Services. “Through my previous experience in working with older children ages 5-18, I observed that a lot of children were never taught basic social and emotional skills,” said Alice. “This leads to my biggest achievement which is being able to help children and families build social and emotional skills such as communication, healthy coping, resilience, and reinforcing their decision to reach out when needed”.
As a Rainbows’ Mental Health Specialist, Alice provides individual therapeutic interventions with children in community child care centers, and in family homes with their caregivers. She also provides therapeutic interventions with individual children at Rainbows with kids attending the early care and education center. These interventions include teaching children about emotions and healthy ways to manage emotions, reducing interfering behaviors, and building social skills. About twice a month Alice also participates in Screen for Success, screening children for the need for mental health services.
“One of my favorite parts of every week is facilitating social and emotional circle times to the pre-k rooms, here at Rainbows’ Kids’ Point,” she said. “During these times I am able to read books or facilitate activities with children and teachers to build skills.
“One of my favorite memories while working at Rainbows has been being able to help individual children and families through difficult situations and challenging behaviors,” said Alice. “An example of this is a specific family I recently worked with where the child was not bonding with his new sibling and having difficulties safely expressing his emotions. I worked with this child at his daycare and communicated with mom weekly. Through our time together this child has taken an interest in his sibling and was able to not only communicate how he was feeling, but also able to calm himself down on his own.”
Another favorite part of her job at Rainbows is being part of the “Mentals” team. “I know I can always count on the people I work with to answer questions and talk through tough situations,” said Alice. “I know the mental health team members all work hard to provide child centered mental health services. Having an amazing supervisor that pushes me to think critically and supports me adds to why I love this job so much.”
“Alice is a shining example of Rainbows’ Guiding Principles in action,” said Mental Health Coordinator Audra Kenneson. “Blending humor and hard work she has found a way to deal with difficult situations, grow her skill set, and make important connections with children and their parents. We are fortunate to have her on Rainbows’ Early Childhood Mental Health team.”
In 2020, Alice and her husband became foster parents for the first time and are experiencing the joys of parenthood. “It’s exhausting,” laughed Alice, “and completely wonderful.” In her free time, Alice loves traveling and spending time with her husband Eric and her dog, Daisy, as well as the rest of her family. She also has a passion for volunteer work and is currently volunteering as the Mental Health Coordinator for Camp Hope, a summer camp for children that have or have/had cancer. “Each summer when I spend a week at Camp Hope, I am reminded why early childhood mental health is so important and I am fueled to strive to best meet the needs of the children and families I serve at Rainbows,” said Alice.