Victor Richardson, 3, gripped a plastic pony in his hand and galloped him into the barn, while Kerri Baldwin flew a brightly colored rooster over his head. “He fly!” Victor squealed.
It may look like play, but Victor and Baldwin, his speech therapist, were working hard at RiteCare Spokane, on Thursday.
Amy Warren, Victor’s grandmother and guardian, sat on the floor next to him. Victor came to live with his grandparents when he was 9 months old. “He was completely silent,” said Warren. “He’d been severely neglected – he would just sit and stare.”
Baldwin said, “When we first evaluated Victor at age 2, he had 10 words.”
He’s been receiving speech therapy at RiteCare since September, and Warren and Baldwin agree that his progress has been remarkable.
“We’re working on the sounds that use air flow like s, z, and f,” Baldwin said, as she hid the rooster behind the barn.
“I found it!” Victor said, giggling.
RiteCare offers free, individualized speech therapy services to children ages 2 through 7 in the Inland Northwest. In 2010, 76 children received direct therapy intervention through RiteCare Spokane. “This is a huge number considering we have only three therapists, all part time,” said clinic director, Michelle Gifford.
The organization is a Scottish Rite Masonic charity and receives financial support from donations, grants, and fundraisers.
On Dec. 11, Spokane Youth Symphony and the Masonic Center are hosting a holiday event to benefit RiteCare. The Kids Helping Kids concert will feature the Spokane Youth Symphony’s senior ensemble and a community choir, and will be conducted by Julian Gomez-Giraldo.
“We wanted to do a Christmas concert, and wanted it to be more than a holiday celebration,” said David Hollingshead, executive director of the Youth Symphony. “Carlton Oakes, executive director of the Masonic Center, suggested the Kids Helping Kids concert.”
That help is welcomed and needed. “The impact of speech and language therapy for kids struggling with words is amazing and life changing. Early intervention is the key,” said Gifford. “The words and the sounds are necessary to succeed in school and without them, many children fail.”
That’s exactly why Jana Beasley brought her daughter, Ashlyn, 21/2, to RiteCare. Her older daughter, Kayli, had received speech therapy from RiteCare and is now thriving in kindergarten. When Beasley noticed Ashlyn’s speech seemed delayed, she immediately thought of RiteCare.
“Ashlyn doesn’t have a vocabulary,” said Beasley. “She has a lot of sounds but we’re trying to get her to use words.”
While Ashlyn hugged a baby doll, speech therapist Chandelle Micklich, said, “She (Ashlyn) is adding one or two words on a weekly basis.”
Judy Miller’s daughter, 6-year-old Anna, also receives services from RiteCare. Miller said, “Anna is a fraternal twin – her sister tends to do all the talking.”
Anna began speech therapy this summer and Miller said, “She’s made tremendous progress. Everyone notices how much more clearly she speaks.”
What Miller most appreciates about RiteCare is the way parents are included. “The unique thing about RiteCare is they offer parent education classes and you can also observe and participate in the therapy.”
According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association more than 10 percent of the population between birth and 21 are diagnosed with communication delay. Currently, at RiteCare children wait six to eight weeks for assessment, and eight to 14 months for therapy. “And families do wait because they can’t access services elsewhere,” said Gifford.
More funding results in more children being helped, which is why Gifford is thrilled about the upcoming concert.
“The Spokane Youth Symphony’s Kids Helping Kids Concert is a blessing. We’re thankful for this incredible gift,” she said.
The generosity of donors and supporters gives the gift of language to kids like Victor. “He got a rough start in life,” said Warren. “There were a lot of doors shut on Victor, but through RiteCare a lot of doors are opening for him. I know he’ll be able to do anything – the possibilities are limitless.”