By, Diana Kurniawan, for Mile High United Way
Mile High United Way has been in Sherri McDowell’s, 45, life for several years with the relationship that began with a lifeguard training class. But, the relationship continued on, through her son’s education and her belief that love isn’t love unless you give it away.
“I got my Life Guard Trainer’s Certificate to train other lifeguard through Mile High United Way. I took classes with the American Red Cross and I knew Mile High United Way was the organization that granted me the certificate,” said McDowell. “I was pregnant with Abby at the time.”
After Sherri’s first child, Abby, 5, was born, she kept the lifeguard training certificate because it was just a hobby for Sherri, to keep up with her lifeguard skills. Then, Kendall, 3, was born two years later, and this was the beginning of a long journey for the McDowells.
At home, Kendall McDowell, 3, sucks on his favorite stuff animal, glow worm, and walks about his house normally. It’s difficult to believe because at one year old, he was Commando Crawling, dragging his body like a snake because he was not developing normally as other children. Kendall was born with Hypoplasie of the Corpus Clossum, or a thin dividing line between the left and right brain hemisphere.
“I threw the milestones out. I was in denial. I saw something at six months, but didn’t want to believe that anything is wrong,” said McDowell.
Gail Reece, a case worker from Denver Options suggested to the McDowells several schools for Kendall, to receive proper physical therapy along with early childhood education. Reece also suggested Sewall Child Development Center, a Mile High United Way partnering agency in Denver.
“I remember at Denver Options, some 23 years old girl told me that being a parent of a special needs child, is just about giving up the dream of having your child become a doctor,” said McDowell. “I took Gail Reece’s advice and I’m never giving up because I want Kendall to have everything in life and to be anything he wants to become.”
After inquiring with four schools in Denver, Sewall had an opening, although the McDowells had to register through a waiting list.
“Sewall has given me hope. Although Kendall is my biggest challenge right now, I can still have hope,” said McDowell.
Sewall Child Development Center integrates early childhood education with a natural setting and combine a family centered approach rather than an invasive therapeutic or clinical environment.
Sherri was very fearful about leaving her son for long hours at a time at Sewall, “my son is non-verbal and what should I do if something happens?” said McDowell. “But, Katherine Greer [a therapist at Sewall], ensured me that the staff is highly sensitive to the children’s needs and Kendall is safe and the staff loves him.”
There is also a little gym and the programs at Sewall include outdoor play times for all of the children in their education classes. At Sewall, Kendall is surrounded by many supportive characters, such as: Ms. Adrianne, Ms. Patty, Ms. Matty, and all of his PT and OT, who are all involved with his care.
“We struggled with the fact that anything can go wrong. I go there to the dark places and ask myself, ‘what if I’m 80 years old and have to take care of a 40 years old man?’ but with Sewall, they let me be the mother, and they do the PT and OT and the hard stuff. They let me have fun with him,” said McDowell. “He said, ‘Mama’ at two and half years.”
Now, Kendall is thriving and by saying ‘Mama’ at two and a half years old, he showed his parents that the education he received at Sewall has changed his capacity as a child. From now on, learning to read, write and speak will be the most fun adventures for the McDowells to walk through together.
“There is a huge need for this, and we went to several other places and they didn’t have space for us. There are not enough people doing this,” said McDowell. “Sewall has stellar day care that is also open to other kids, not just special needs. So we are thinking of enrolling Abby, to see if she is a great fit there.”
From the loving school Sewall Child Development Center has proven to the McDowells, the family did not stop with just the satisfaction of having a successful early childhood education with Kendall. The McDowells believe that love isn’t love without giving, and they dedicated time and money to help other Mile High United Way partners to pay-it-forward.
“I’m a Goodwill shopper, and I have been all of my life,” said McDowell. “You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving. So we do our good deeds and work with a church. We volunteer with Restoration Community Church to cook breakfast for the Urban Peak.”
Both Goodwill and Urban Peak are partners of Mile High United Way and the McDowells recognized the strong partnerships that all of the surroundings organizations have with Mile High United Way.
“I know Mile High United Way do a lot of things, and I know they give a lot to Sewall, which I love,” said McDowell. “Sewall has changed my life, and they’ve changed Kendall’s life and by that, Mile High United Way has changed my life.”
Besides the care that Sewall provides for the McDowell, another splendid development happened to the McDowells. “We just had dinner with 4 parents and 7 children, whom we met from Sewall, and it was a great time,” said Jim McDowell, Kendall’s father. Sewall became a natural meeting place for camaraderie between parents with special needs children. The McDowells gained a new community and a thriving child by enrolling Kendall to their day care program.
“The biggest thing is, they’re doing miraculous things, and I feel thankful to be a part of my child’s education,” said McDowell.
“What we have now is a happy kid, and that’s the difference,” said Jim McDowell.
Mile High United Way, Goodwill, Urban Peak and Sewall Child Development Center, will all continue to provide critical services for their specific targeted populations. Mile High United Way recognized the needs for the community and collaborates with numerous partnering organization to advance the common good.
To find out more about Mile High United Way, or to Give, Donate, or Advocate, please click to: www.unitedwaydenver.org.