ELYRIA — Happy 100th birthday, Easterseals.
The organization that provides resources to children and adults with disabilities and also supports education and awareness celebrated its first century Monday with a luncheon and presentation to supporters and friends at the Lorain County Transportation Center on East Avenue.
The fifth person and first woman to run the local organization since 1919, Sheila M. Dunn, president and CEO of Easterseals Northern Ohio, said Easterseals has been at the forefront of providing families with loans to purchase needed equipment, hosting inclusive camps and providing day services for children and adults and was among the originators of barrier-free architecture and voice-activated wheelchairs. (the nonprofit officially changed its name from Easter Seals to Easterseals in 2016.)
Monday’s keynote speaker Danielle Flickinger, who is legally blind and has cerebral palsy, has worked with Easterseals for much of her life, she said. A graduate of Kent State University with two degrees, she is is a caseload assistant for Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities.
In a video shown to Monday’s guests, Flickinger said everyone should be 100 percent included and 100 percent empowered regardless of physical ability and be able to “go out in the world” and “be successful.”
She also shared a number of pieces of advice for anyone of any ability:
- “Always be proud of who you are,” Flickinger said. “That’s when you have the opportunity to do anything.”
- “Always reach for the moon, and even if you fall you will land among the stars and go further than you ever could,” she said.
- And “a small group of committed people really can change the world,” Flickinger said.
Multiple elected officials gifted the organization with proclamations in honor of its 100th birthday. They included the city of Elyria, represented Monday by Mayor Holly Brinda, Lorain County commissioners, and the U.S. Senate, which passed a resolution backed by Ohio’s senators, Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman.
Commissioner Sharon Sweda said Easterseals “brought us through the badlands” through advocacy and volunteerism to serve the health needs first of disabled children, then later adult veterans returning from World War II.
From its “humbled Elyria, Ohio, beginnings,” the organization has become “a strong partner with local, state and federal government” to serve individuals with disabilities and special medical and health needs, she said.
Founded in Elyria on April 22, 1919, by Edgar F. Allen as the Ohio Society for Crippled Children with the help of Elyrians, including members of the local Rotary, the organization became the Easter Seals Society in 1935.
A businessman, Allen founded the organization 12 years after his 18-year-old son Homer and eight other people died in a streetcar crash in Elyria. Realizing that some lives might have been saved if immediate hospital care was available, he sold his company and dedicated himself to helping improve access to health care for children.
Through his work and many donations, Elyria Memorial Hospital opened in 1908. Allen also later opened the Gates Hospital for Crippled Children, a 100-bed, first-of-its-kind facility in the United States, in Elyria in 1915. It later became the Society for Crippled Children.
The Easterseals name originated in 1935, when the Society for Crippled Children began its first Easter “seal” campaign, placing seals stating “Help Crippled Children” on envelopes to show support for that cause.
Easter Seals became the organization’s official name in 1967, and it later advocated for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disabilities.
Dunn recalled her early beginnings with the organization, selling paper lilies in the mid-1960s for donations to the cause and later working at an Easterseals summer camp in Tiffin.
The end of Easterseals’ first century also signals the end of Dunn’s career. With her retirement approaching in July, she took a moment Monday to introduce her successor — Bev Richards, currently the executive vice president of the Christian Children’s Home of Ohio in Wooster.
“Thank you, Lorain County, for all you’ve done for us,” Dunn said.
The celebration of Easterseals continues throughout the year. Also on Monday, the Lorain County Courthouse in Elyria, Terminal Tower in Cleveland, Niagara Falls, the Empire State Building, Chicago’s One and Two Prudential Plaza buildings, the trains at Tampa International Airport and other locations were lit up in Easterseals orange, according to Dunn and the organization.
The color, paired with yellow, is part of a rebranding the organization took part in for its birthday, along with the new motto: “All abilities. Limitless possibilities.” The organization currently serves 27 Ohio counties, 47 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico and Australia.
“I can’t wait for the day when we can say ‘We are 100 percent empowered, we are 100 percent included,” Flickinger told the gathering. “Right here, right now, today I am living Easterseals mission. ... Everyone in this room has the opportunity to empower me, and I can’t wait to see Easterseals, where we go, in the next 100 (years).”