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  October 12, 2003    
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 Mountain Home - Baxter County Regional Airport, AR

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Walk With Me

Staff Writer

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Easter Seals poster child to be featured guest at fund-raiser Riley McClanahan, an Easter Seals poster child who suffered from a brain hemorrhage when he was 2 weeks old, will be a guest at the Salem Easter Seals Walk With Me event Oct. 11 at the Salem City Park.

Salem is one of four cities selected to take part in the event, said Jerry Estes of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, one of the organizers of the event. He said Easter Seals asked Salem to raise $8,000 to help children with special needs. So far, through corporate sponsors and the proceeds from two yard sales held at the co-op’s Salem and Mountain Home offices, around $6,000 has been raised.

Registration for the event begins at 9 a.m. and the walk around the park will follow. Pre-registration is also available at NAEC. The cost for participants is $10 for children and $20 for adults.

Salem students have been busy soliciting donations for the walk. Estes said the class which raises the most money will be given a pizza party and a magic show.

“A lot of families have been affected that Easter Seals has helped,” Estes said. The walk will provide the public an opportunity to support an organization that has helped many, he said.

Estes said many from the co-op will be participating in the event and local banks are also helping.

Around 200 people in local neighboring communities have been helped this year, Estes said.

Walk With Me is more than a fund-raiser; it presents an opportunity for communities to unite behind a single mission – creating solutions that change the lives of children and adults with disabilities, he said.

Some facts about Easter Seals: one in five people have a friend or family member with a disability; 60,000 school children in Arkansas have disabilities; more than 7,900 people in 75 counties across the state were served by Easter Seals Arkansas programs last year; the organization helps children and adults with disabilities gain their greatest level of independence.

Estes said the organization offers services including childhood education, job training and placement, and physical, speech and occupational therapy.

Additional programs include infant monitoring, early Head Start, outpatient therapy, summer day camps, case management and parent support groups.

Estes said 99 percent of all funds raised in Arkansas will stay in the state.

Riley’s family from Maumelle have agreed to take part in the event because if the public can put a face to a cause it’s easier for them to identify and want to help, said Robert McClanahan, Riley’s father.

His child’s birth, illness and ongoing recovery has changed his life forever, Mr. McClanahan said.

“Prior to Riley’s birth, if you had told me that someday I would have a disabled child and call him the greatest blessing in my life, I would have thought you were absolutely crazy,” he said.

Riley was a perfect child when he was born, but two weeks later the McClanahans’ perfect world was shattered.

A blood vessel in his brain ruptured, taking a substantial portion of his brain with it, leaving him with physical impairments similar to a massive stroke, McClanahan explained.

The condition is extremely rare with full-term babies, he said. Riley spent the next five weeks at Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.

The family questioned why this tragic event occurred. The answers didn’t come McClanahan said, until God opened his eyes to an amazing revelation: God transformed his perfect child into a child who brings out perfection in others – His perfect child, McClanahan said.

Riley’s mother, Michelle, a former neo-natal speciality nurse, was qualified to deal with her son’s condition, McClanahan said.

When Riley returned home he couldn’t do anything; life changed for the McClanahans. “It completely turned our world upside down,” McClanahan said.

But when Riley turned 1 and 1/2 a spot opened up for him at the Easter Seal’s pre-school program in Little Rock where he receives physical and occupational therapy. “He has come much further than we ever imagined,” McClanahan said.

Riley has learned to sit up and feed himself, he can communicate through the use of sign language, he responds to 75 different signs. His latest progress has the whole family excited; he has learned to speak a few words and has taken a few steps with the aid of a walker.

Riley has two sisters and a brother. His disabilities have had an impact on the whole family. His siblings’ activities are restricted because of the time involved in taking care of Riley. The family doesn’t go on vacations together. If one of the children has an activity one parent chaperons the event while the other parent stays behind to care for Riley.

At times it is hard for Riley’s siblings to express themselves but they have learned to be more sensitive, compassionate and tolerant. Riley’s sisters worked with their father to write a book called God’s Perfect Child, a book about Riley.

The book illustrates the family’s feelings toward Riley’s handicap. It also expresses how the public views disabilities. The children wrote that sometimes people are afraid of others who are different. Just because someone is disabled doesn’t make them scary, the book continues.

“Riley’s needs are inescapable,” McClanahan said. The family will be facing a major decision in the near future. Next year Riley will either have to be home-schooled or attend a public school. The goal of Easter Seals is to mainstream disabled children in public schools, he said.

But Riley’s family is debating if public school is the best choice. He suffers from severe allergies. His father worries that a child could have dairy products on his hands and touch Riley which could cause him to have a reaction.

But some good has come from Riley’s affliction. The community and friends supported the family during the ordeal. A group that McClanahan refers to as Riley’s Warriors consists of Christian people who have been moved by what God has done for and through Riley, McClanahan said.

Riley’s Warriors has not yet been registered as a charitable organization but they do raise money to support work that Easter Seals Arkansas does.

The McClanahans say they have been blessed but that is not always the case with many disabled children’s families. “So many have to walk that road alone, McClanahan said. He said Riley’s Warriors try to find ways to minister to those families with disabled kids.


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