2013 VIPS Retreat – A Reunion

Last weekend Rob, Lola and I drove down to Louisville, Kentucky for the annual VIPS Retreat. Last year we were quite impressed with the overall logistics of the event which meant there was no hesitation in saying yes when asked if we’d be going back this year.

We arrived early Saturday morning and first to do on our list was check Lola into the VIPS preschool. The VIPS Preschool is specifically designed for children who are blind or visually impaired. Not only is the infastructure designed for kids like Lola, but the toys serve specific vision loss components and most of the personnel are trained teachers of the visually impaired. There is a nurse on duty for those children who are medically fragile which helps ease the mind of parents. Last year, we I was constantly wondering if Lola was OK, if she was well cared for, if she missed us. This year, we checked her in, I gave her a kiss and off we went to attend the seminars planned for the day. On Monday, September 23rd, those of us advocating for VIPS-Indiana (VIPS-Bloomington), personally invited several Indiana legislators to tour the VIPS Preschool in hopes to build something similar in Indiana. What I wouldn’t give to send Lola to a preschool that could enable her to learn in a way that she could best understand.

VIPS Retreat 2013-2

VIPS Retreat 2013

The rest of the day included important lectures on everything from Orientation and Mobility to being prepared for a child’s IEP (individualized education plan) to special needs estate planning. Rob and I attended one lecture on transitioning your child to preschool which was incredibly helpful given we are in that very process right now with Lola. There was a panel of teachers, school administrators and parents all prepared to guide us and answer all of our questions.

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The last speaker of the day was Patrick Henry Hughes. Patrick Henry is a former VIPS student who now (at the age of 26) has gone on to do some pretty remarkable things with his life. Despite being blind and in a wheelchair, he went on to be in the University of Louisville Marching Band (pushed in his wheelchair by his father). He is a singer, an incredible piano player, an inspirational speaker and as of recently, an author. I have to tell you there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when his story was being shared. The sobs continued as he sang Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind”.

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What I loved most about Patrick Henry was his determination to move forward with life in spite of all of his challenges. He was once asked in a television interview about being held back in life because of his disabilities and his response was that he doesn’t think he has any disabilities. Instead they are all abilities that have helped him get to a greater goal. You know, just because most days I come across as being this strong mother for Lola doesn’t mean that I don’t still have my moments of sadness. No parent wants their child to have to work extra hard to achieve goals, no parent wants their child to ever feel not included in society because she is different, but lately I keep reminding myself to stop focusing on Lola’s disabilities and start appreciating and praising the abilities that she does have. This was a gentle reminder I so badly needed and I’m happy that Patrick Henry was part of that reminder.

After a long day of seminars, we eagerly went back to the Preschool to pick up our girl. The teacher, nurse and volunteers all offered information as to how the day went. A couple of things came as no surprise…Lola took her pants off repeatedly (a perpetual problem these days but one step closer to independence) and Lola was quite fond of the mirror (she has entire conversations with herself in the mirror). The teacher said watching Lola was like night and day from last year. Last year Lola was an introvert. She kept to herself, she didn’t initiate interaction with anyone and she was very timid. This year Lola would interact when she wanted, she loved getting into everything the classroom had to offer and she was very engaging with the staff. Of course, we couldn’t leave the Preschool without going into the sensory room…a zen-like place even for an adult like myself.

The rest of the evening was spent outside at a VIPS BBQ. They had a quite a spread of delicious food (even veggie burgers for us vegetarians), Ann Hughes manned tables where parents and children could create cool sensory items, there was bounce house, pony rides (Lola went on her first horse) and they even had Reiki for us parents to indulge in.

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New friends

New friends

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As always, we are in awe of all that VIPS has done and continues to do for our family which is why I’ve become such a huge advocate for their continued community support. VIPS-Indiana has played a crucial role in so many aspects of our lives and we thank them from the bottom of our grateful hearts.

If you would like to donate to VIPS-Indiana, please follow the link. Along with the monetary need for help, they are always in need of supplies as well. Please click on the mailbox in the right hand corner of this site to find out more about what could be used.

Here are a couple of pictures from our last visit with Miss Annie…

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Hello eye contact!!  Woo hoo!!

Hello eye contact!! Woo hoo!!