The Studio Blog Archive

A few posts we've written over the years

Graduating During a Pandemic

Their future really is so bright…they gotta wear shades!
Graduating During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Every year, as the Program Coordinator for Rainbows’ Early Care and Education, I’m asked to write a blog about the Pre-K Graduation Ceremony.  Every year, I’m privileged to talk about how great my teaching staff are and how much the little ones have grown over the year(s) I’ve had the pleasure of knowing them. And how sad and proud I am to see them leave our little nest.  Every year Graduation and this blog are a constant in my world. But oh how different this year was for all of us.

COVID-19 hit the world and found its way into even our everyday lives in Wichita, Kansas.  So often the big problems of the big cities seem so far removed from my little world in Wichita.  That isn’t true anymore.  

We forged ahead in the Early Care and Education department.  We never closed, and my staff did a tremendous job of continuing to care for the children, their own families, and each other.  Slowly, but surely, most children came back to care, but some chose to remain at home. Pre-K Graduation was cancelled like so many other things.  And it was disappointing.  We said “It’s ok, because it’s for everyone’s safety.”  But really we were sad.  

Then something amazing happened.  We figured out a way we could have the ceremony safely, with masks and social distancing and immediate family only.  Different is better than nothing, right?  Right!

The kids were still excited; the staff and the parents so proud!  I literally cried when I saw Maddi walk, really walk, across the stage for her certificate.  The bond displayed between Munroe and Ms. Autumn brought joy to my heart and tears to my eyes.  All the children did such a remarkable job on that stage; it was obvious how much they’ve grown up!

Still, I was sad that I couldn’t be there in person.  I was waiting for COVID-19 test results for my own son, who is an essential worker.  I had to stay home to make sure that everyone was safe, like so many others, including grandparents, and aunts and uncles, and cousins and others that usually get to attend.  I watched our Kids’ Point Graduation by video…  It really was a sign of the times.  The very best sign of the times however, was watching those kids.  They embody the hopes and dreams of all of us- in person or on video.  Their future really is so bright… they gotta wear shades!  Best wishes Pre-K Class of 2020!

By Michelle Croomes, Program Coordinator

Lynlea Southards

Excellence in Health Care Recognition: Wichita Business Journal

Published Friday, July 24, 2020, Wichita Business Journal

Lynlea Southards
Family Support Services Coordinator, Rainbows United Inc.

Why did you choose a career in health care? I have a cousin named Wendy who has Down Syndrome. She is a non-verbal, deaf and has low vision. Being around Wendy and seeing how she enjoys life and impacts those around her has had a huge impact on me growing up and choosing a career of helping others. The dedication and care by my aunt allowed me to see up close how much joy one person could bring to inspire others. 

What is your greatest professional achievement? During the current pandemic situation, it has been vital to provide care for the school-aged children and youth and their families we serve. For many years, Rainbows’ families have relied on a center-based care for their child with special needs during the summer. It is called Camp Woodchuck. Unfortunately, we were not able to bring the kids together in the center for Camp this year due to health concerns and gathering restrictions. 

As an agency, we decided to do in-home services with a Camp focus. It was a big challenge, and a big change for everyone. But we developed the necessary tools for our staff and have been able to provide the kids with a fun, Camp-like experience in their own homes. This arrangement started for many families when school went online and kids began school at home. Having care for a child with special needs is essential and allows parents to work at home and outside the home. It has been a huge achievement to see the needs of families met in a way that allows them to thrive in a safe environment.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? Providing safe care for the children and families we serve due the Covid-19 pandemic has been my biggest challenge. Summer services include virtual field trips, Skype calls with friends, crafts, outdoor play, walks and more. Making the change to in-home services when plans for a center-based Camp experience were nearly in place took a lot of creative thinking about what families and staff needed and how we could develop solutions to provide safe, quality care. I am proud to say that we have been able to provide a fun, safe Camp-like experience to 58 children and youth (ages 6-21) through the dedication and flexibility of 85 staff members. When families tell me how much it means to them to have a Rainbows’ direct care professional in their home keeping their child safe with fun summer activities, I know it has been worth it and we are all stronger for the experience.

What was the best career decision you ever made? My best career decision is taking the Family Support Services Coordinator position at Rainbows United. Rainbows is an organization that makes a difference for families who have a child with special needs. It is amazing how the services help and impact the whole family. Every day I see or hear how a child was successful in trying something new or accomplishing a goal. We get to celebrate with families when their teenager dances in their wheelchair, learns to shake hands instead of hug everyone (before Covid-19), as well as make friends their own age. It’s a joy when a child learns to advocate and express their own needs, learn a new song from the radio or tell a new joke. I’m also blown away when one of my staff members discovers their passion for the special education field and pursues a career. 

Who was your most important mentor? Debbie Mai, Vice President of Programs and Services, Rainbows United, Inc. She has given me guidance and support to grow as a leader in the Rainbows’ organization. Debbie challenges and supports me in a way that allows me to grow and develop. She supports my ideas and helps shape them to make them better in the end. She asks thoughtful, insightful questions that help me be a better supervisor.

What is the best advice they gave you? The best advice Debbie has given me is to make it a priority to build relationships with co-workers, staff, families and each child we serve. 

What is the best advice you would give to someone considering a career in health care? Follow your heart and take care of yourself. When you take care of yourself, it will give you the strength to care for others with all your heart.

Are you involved in the community? My passion is the special needs community. I enjoy being a part of Special Olympics. Watching the kids and youth grow, achieve and inspire others is life changing.

What do you like to do in your spare time? In my spare time, I spend time with my family. We enjoying playing board games and going to sporting events together.

Maddi will WALK across the Stage

Pre-K Graduation Celebrates Determination
Pre-K Class of 2020 Graduates Despite Pandemic

Spina Bifida. Club feet. Neurogenic bladder and bowels. Chari 2 Syndrome. Daunting? Not for 5-year-old Maddilyn “Maddi” Riemann. Maddi is a determined little girl and is not defined by these conditions.

Maddi is the life of the classroom. She brings joy, a sassy personality, a booming voice and even louder laughs. She acts like a teacher and tries to round up all her classmates so they can follow the directions of the teachers. Maddi loves to do hair and is always trying to fix all the girls’ hair in the classroom. 

“I met Maddi when she was only a few weeks old to do her evaluation for Infant/Toddler Services through Rainbows,” said Rhonda Davis, Physical Therapist.  “I became her primary service provider at that time.  Maddi was going to another daycare other than Rainbows and I was seeing her there weekly.  When she moved to Rainbows, she was in the nursery as she wasn’t crawling yet.”  

“Even as an infant, Maddi was headstrong, so I had to follow her lead as to what we were going to work on during each visit,” said Rhonda.  “Once she started crawling, we started working on finding a way to get her walking. On one visit, she would do great with a specific walking device, but then on the next visit, Maddi would just look at me as if to say, try again. This girl kept me on my toes, but she was a blast to work with, especially the first time I walked into Ms. Stacey’s room and she said “Hi Rhonda” for the first time.”   

As owners of their own construction company, Katie and Jeff rely upon Rainbows to provide child care for their daughter, even during the pandemic. “By knowing that she is taken care of by qualified staff as well as supplying a safe environment for her to be in, her Mother and I can rest at ease through the day as we go off to work,” said Jeff.

“Rainbows has worked with her on her walking as well as her day to day activities…to include learning the simple things we need to be able to get through our day,” said Jeff. “She is more independent and is led to be more self-motivated.”

“Rainbows and the staff take the time to understand the child’s needs,” said Katie. “They work with the parents to make sure that your concerns are understood and keep working with you as needs change.  We appreciated their willingness to learn the different skills needed to take care of our daughter.”

Maddi will graduate from Pre-Kindergarten this year, and she is going to walk across the stage to get her diploma.  “I’ve watched Maddi grow since she was in the infant room when I nicknamed her “Roly-Poly,” said Autumn Hutchison, Early Education Lead Teacher.  “Maddi wanted to be around everyone. She would roll one way or another to get where she wanted. As she aged through the classrooms, I saw her crawl, use a wheelchair, a walker, and crutches.”

“Maddi has blossomed into a beautiful little lady and I can’t wait to see what her future lies ahead for her,” said Autumn. “If she can dream it, she will definitely achieve it.”

Learning and Growing Through Pandemic Challenges

Tele-therapy Connects Therapists and Families
Rainbows' Therapists Connect Via Tele-therapy During COVID-19

The precautions against COVID-19 have come with many challenges as well as many added joys to both my personal and work lives. Looking back over the last almost four months, I realize how much I have learned and grown as a therapist while working from home.

Working from home has presented several unique challenges. The biggest thing I have missed while working from home is the personal, more intimate connection with families and children, especially hugs and cuddles with little ones. There have also been software and internet malfunctions, dogs and children inserting their opinions (my dogs and children), and trying to find the best way to position my phone or iPad when I am down on the floor trying to demonstrate an exercise. Lastly, I have been challenged to explain my ideas in words, since I am not able to reach through the screen to show caregivers my ideas for positioning or exercises. I have always been better with hands-on demonstrations, sometimes struggling with words.

While there have been challenges along this journey of working from home, I have also been blessed with forgiving and encouraging families and supportive coworkers. Three blessings I have found along the way include the opportunity to hone my coaching skills, more time with my family, and more flexibility to meet the schedules of the families I work with. 

The parents and caregivers of the kids I work with are incredible in so many ways. Every single family is eager to jump in to learn new ideas or exercises to help their child. So many parents answer my tele-therapy call and they are already down on the floor with their child, ready for our session.  Working from home has provided me the opportunity to focus more on coaching, better empowering the caregivers to carry out ideas in their day to day schedule. Additionally, in working from home, I have found more online resources - videos and pictures - to provide parents with information that they can use in their routines. 

Personally, I have enjoyed the extra time with my family over the last 4 months. With no commute, we have more time to go on walks and play. I have grabbed my 17-month-old little boy as my model in more than a few therapy sessions. Sweet puppy snuggles and play pizza from my five-year-old help ground me when I am doing paperwork. 

The last benefit I have found while working from home has been increased flexibility to meet the schedule of parents and caregivers. Usually, I have a hard time doing early morning or late afternoon visits due to pick-up or drop-off of my three children. Since I have been working from home, I am able to do visits earlier or later to meet the schedules of the families with whom I work. Since most of my coworkers have more flexibility as well, I have had the added benefit of more joint visits.

While I really miss in-home visits and doing therapy in person, I have been so blessed by my families and coworkers. I could not have effectively made this transition without the grace and cooperation of families, understanding and wisdom of teammates, and the support of management at Rainbows.

Written by Gail Laochinda, Physical Therapist, Infant/Toddler Services

Children’s Mental Health

Our job is to plant seeds

Most of us who work with children, whether as a mental health professional, teacher, volunteer, etc., have worked with, or heard of that “one kid” who cannot control their anger, whines all the time, cannot sit still, runs around knocking things over.  Or maybe it is the one child who does not speak much, sits quietly, does not disturb anyone, but also does not participate at school, and refuses to connect with other children their age. Then after a while of trying your best to help, that thought of “I’ve tried everything, and nothing has worked” kicks in.  

Now, this is the exact moment where it is most important for us professionals working with young children to begin to remember why we chose this career, to remember that we cannot “fix” people, but that our job is to plant seeds, whether small or large.  How you react, how well you attempt to bond and keep that bond, how you choose to teach and provide wisdom will be implanted, somehow, in these young children for ages to come. 

It is easy to start to worry about a bond you have created breaking right in front of your eyes, or about the constant pressure of building a bond to begin with. Maybe you begin to feel helpless that what you are doing to “help” or “teach” is not working, or maybe you feel like you are making the situation worse. If this describes how you feel, or have felt, in your work with children, there are a few strategies listed below that may be helpful in creating, rebuilding, and/or strengthening the bond you have with the children you serve. 

Why is maintaining a healthy bond important in our work with children? One answer out of many, as stated by Child Psychiatrist Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., “The more healthy relationships a child has, the more likely he will be to recover from trauma and thrive. Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love.” 

We cannot take away the trauma a child has experienced, but we do have the ability to create a bonding experience, even if for just a moment, that could positively impact a child’s life forever. 

Strategies For Professionals to Consider:
•    Remember that some families may have different expectations for how children interact with adults, which can be confusing for a child. Some families don’t encourage eye contact. Some families encourage children to question and negotiate. Help children and families understand expectations for your specific setting.
•    Use language that helps children see you as a mentor rather than opponent.
•    Get to know children well. If a child’s personality clashes with yours, find what endearing qualities the child has and don’t fall into an unhealthy relationship.
o    Other ways to create a relationship 
    Make up a secret handshake with the child(ren). 
    Create a special word you say, or song you sing together.
    One-on-one child-led play time.
•    Have casual/purposeful conversations with children. Conversation does not always have to be about academics (shapes, colors, numbers). 
•    Be affectionate even when child(ren) are showing challenging behaviors. Don’t just use affection as a reward for good behavior, use affection during challenging behaviors as well. 
•    Show children that you will keep them safe. When a child is out of control, keep them close to you. Let them know you won’t let them hurt others and won’t let others hurt them.
•    Mean what you say. Be consistent with your words and actions. 
•    Teach children that relationships can be repaired. This may mean apologizing to them if you spoke to them harshly or you may be teaching them how to repair relationships with others.
•    Speak quietly/softly to the child(ren) during stressful situations. 
•    Help children understand and fix their mistakes.

Janelle Jeffrey, LMSW became a Mental Health Specialist at Rainbows United in June 2019. She currently works with children in the Wichita area who are enrolled in USD 259 Pre-K programs offering individual therapeutic services. She also serves children and their families in their home environment.  

Bruce D. Perry, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook


Rainbows United overcomes challenge of hands-off work with special-needs infants and toddlers 

By Kirk Seminoff 
Associate Editor, Wichita Business Journal 

You think you have had it tough working remotely during Covid-19? Think about the challenge of working with babies and toddlers who are developmentally delayed as part of Rainbows United's early intervention program.

Where before mid-March those educators were sitting on the floor, teaching and laughing with babies and toddlers and their parents, those meetings are now restricted to half-hour video get-togethers.

"I do miss my toddler hugs and being able to be right there with them," said Mindy Brockmeyer, an early childhood special education teacher for infants and toddlers with Rainbows United in Sedgwick County.

Rainbows offers early intervention services to more than 1,000 children and their families in Sedgwick, Butler and Sumner counties. Services in Sumner County began last week.

Children from birth to age 3 are identified with a developmental delay in one or more areas and assigned to special education teachers and specialists in areas such as physical therapy or speech pathology. In-home visits usually last an hour, where the educator works with the parents as much as the child, teaching techniques that work on development.

But once Covid-19 started showing up in Kansas in mid-March, Rainbows United leadership quickly made the move to teletherapy. With educators seeing as many as seven or eight families in a day, there was a need to end any risk of possibly spreading the virus.

"I've had to literally let go of the child," said Angela Pulaski, a Butler County-based physical therapist in Rainbows' infants/toddlers program. "So maybe I'll have mom or dad show me what they're doing (via video), and I might tell them, 'What if we try it with your hand here or hand there?'"

Pulaski laughs and says there are times during virtual meetings that she'll notice her own hands moving and twisting, as if she could reach through the computer screen to work with the child.

Rainbows' program model, similar to other associated programs around Kansas, is to teach the parents to be the coach's child instead of relying on the educator.

"What it's done is made us all better at communication," said Alexia Foster, a infant/toddler services coordinator in Sedgwick County. "I have to be purposeful with my conversations because you can't catch people as they're walking down the hallway. Then for our staff, they have to verbalize their thinking when interacting with a family instead of just reaching out and doing." 

But the hands-off result of online-only meetings has actually, in many cases, accelerated the amount of learning by parents that turns into teaching with their children.

"The staffer would have normally done something that would have engaged the child, but now the staffer has to tell the parent how to engage and interact," Foster said. "That works out great because the parent has learned a new way to engage."

Other challenges were created by moving to teletherapy. Not all familes have sufficient wireless setups, and some parents with multiple children must carve time into their schedules to focus only on the virtual meeting.

Even so, Brockmeyer says, parents have become even more invested because of teletherapy. There's no hands-on teaching by the educator — the parent is solely responsible for coaching the infant or toddler.

"Parents are pretty good reporters," Brockmeyer said. "If you ask a parent whether their child can do something, they'll know right away whether they can or not."

For the educators, initial hesitance because of being unable to be on the floor working with children has turned into some advantages, and some disadvantages.

"The interesting thing about providers in the infant/toddler program is because they can do six, seven, eight visits a day, they're all about being up and moving," Foster said. "They're in the home, on the floor, moving around with the toddler, then they're in the car and on to the next home.

"Now I'm hearing complaints about having to sit still for so long. It's difficult for anybody in my department to sit for too long in one spot. It's exhausting in a different way."

With Covid-19 cases again on the rise in the Wichita area, there's been no timeline given educators and parents on when in-home visits might begin again. For Brockmeyer and other teachers, they would gladly give up some new-found perks for some old ones.

"Not having a commute is nice," she said, "but once I can get out with families again, the commute will be worth it."

Serving children with special needs for 48 years

Celebrating the History of Rainbows

On June 8, 2020, Rainbows United celebrated its 48th Birthday. We took time out during this challenging time to celebrate the history of Rainbows. As many of you may know, Rainbows was started in 1972 by Linda Weir Enegren a young Wichita State University graduate who had a passion for helping children with disabilities. Linda started Rainbows with 5 children and a set of committed volunteers in the basement of her church, Pleasant Valley UMC.  Linda had a strong belief that communities needed to support families so that their children with disabilities did not have to be sent away to live in a state institution for the rest of their lives. She really challenged hard and fast beliefs that there was any other way.

Here we are 48 years later annually serving more than 3400 children, birth to 21 years with special needs, and their families. Services offered have grown from one program to eleven and now cover both Sedgwick and Butler Counties. 

While there have been some tested times throughout Rainbows history, Rainbows has succeeded because of the strong belief that these services are needed in our community and the commitment of donors like you who continue to support Rainbows in providing those services.

Thank you to our valued donors, our dedicated Board of Directors, talented staff, and the amazing families and their children whom we have the privilege of serving each day. It is because of these current individuals and those in the past that Rainbows United is able to celebrate 48 years of providing quality services.

Happy Birthday Rainbows!
-Deb Voth, President