Ngozi Tabbs
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When Ngozi Tabbs learned more than three years ago that she had multiple sclerosis (MS), the diagnosis was difficult to process. As a social worker assisting people in Washington, DC, living with mental illness and homelessness, Ngozi (pronounced “Ann-ga-zee”) was a fierce and compassionate advocate for the people she worked with, and now had to advocate for herself as she navigated a new chapter in her life.

But for Ngozi, who put herself through college for both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees as a single mom, “no” or “can’t” was not an option. She was determined to get the expensive equipment she needed.

When the stairs in her southern Maryland home became difficult to use and she experienced several falls, Ngozi looked for funding to install a stair lift in her home for more than two years. After the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) pledged $1,500, Ngozi applied for an Eric Fund grant for the remainder of the more than $9,000 still needed for the stair lift. Due to extra funds raised the year prior, The Eric Fund board approved additional funding for Ngozi, with the remainder raised by the generous donors at The Eric Fund 20th Anniversary celebration in September, which Ngozi attended with her daughter.

Thanks to the generosity of The Eric Fund and its supporters in partnership with NMSS, Ngozi’s stair lift is completely funded. Her custom stair lift is being manufactured and will be installed soon. “I’m just so excited to get the equipment needed to assist me to keep me in my home,” she said.

2018Nate Nashawardee
Ammar Walcott
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Ammar Walcott is the older of two autistic twins who just celebrated their 18th birthday. (He is also one of six children!) His autism primary affects his communication skills resulting in the need for a high level of support to participate in social and functional activities.

Ammar attends high school as part of a certificate program, where he receives special education, occupational therapy and speech therapy services. A visual learner, he has had success in school using an iPad, where visual applications like Boardmaker Online and ChoiceBoard Creator provide the visual and auditory cues that are most effective in getting him to “use his words” to express his needs.

These programs enable Ammar to access visual communication boards that help guide his verbal output. They also provide things like checklists, visual schedules and timers, which all help promote independence with completion of functional tasks like meal prep, cleaning and working tasks.

The Eric Fund is pleased to award Ammar his own iPad (and necessary apps) for use at home so that he can have continuity from school to home, a necessary component of his path toward increased independence. His mother was effusive with her appreciation, and loved the timing – he received his iPad so near his birthday, it felt like a birthday gift. “This is a real gift for Ammar,” she said, “and the ability to communicate better with Ammar is a gift for our entire family.”

2018Nate Nashawardee
Natalie Chirinos
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Natalie Chirinos is a 15-year-old girl who is blind and has Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a disability that affects muscle coordination. Because she has difficulty standing safely without the assistance of a physical therapist, she is home-schooled by her grandmother, whose second language is English. Because of these numerous challenges, Natalie receives around-the-clock personal care. Her Support Coordinator in Prince William County reached out to The Eric Fund to help her apply for a standing walker – a device not covered by insurance – which would help Natalie transition safely from a sitting to standing position at home, an important “first step” toward performing this task independently and voluntarily. Being able to stand on her own will also help preserve Natalie’s existing range of motion.

“The Eric Fund is providing Natalie with the first piece of technology that she has ever had that will help her have some control over her actions and do something independently,” her support coordinator said. “It may seem like nothing, but to Natalie it has a hugely positive impact on her quality of life.”

2018Nate Nashawardee
Jake Jaffe
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Jake Jaffe is a kind, loving 11-year-old boy who has Down syndrome and autism spectrum dis- order. The combination of these disabilities makes communication the most challenging issue that Jake confronts daily. He has challenges expressing himself verbally, and is only able to use two-word sentences to express his needs. Jake has difficulty connecting with other children because he doesn’t have the words to engage in social interactions.

Jake tried a variety of augmentative communication devices (AAC) but as his mom and speech pathologist observed him independently navigating the buttons on the Tobii Dynavox Indi, it was clear that that was the device he “clicked” with. They looked on as he became animated and excited, and interested in learning more.

The Jaffes learned about The Eric Fund by word-of-mouth from another family whose son had previously received a life-changing AAC device. They applied for partial funding, to cover the cost of the device that insurance wouldn’t cover, and were thrilled to learn that they had been chosen to receive it.

“The Eric Fund is truly a wonderful organization and we really, really appreciate all that you have done for us,” said Jake’s mom, Chiara.

“The device has made such a big difference in Jake’s life with respect to his ability to communicate with his teachers and peers. I read the [Eric Fund] newsletter as well, and it was so wonderful to see the huge impact that the funding has had on other people who needed assistive devices.”

2018Nate Nashawardee
Emilia
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Eight-year-old Emilia is now riding in style in Northern Virginia with a new wheelchair and car seat from The Eric Fund. Emilia, who has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, as well as physical and intellectual disabilities, outgrew her adaptive stroller to the point it was negatively impacting her positioning and posture. Emilia’s parents did not have the financial means to afford the necessary equipment for Emilia and turned to The Eric Fund for help.

The Eric Fund purchased a new wheelchair and adaptive car seat custom made for Emilia. Her parents were so grateful for the equipment for their daughter, they decided to help another family in need by donating Emilia’s old adaptive stroller that was still in good condition. With all of the necessary safety features and adaptations, Emilia is on her way to being more independent at school and at home. “It’s great,” says her father. “I can’t tell you what a difference this has made.”

2017Nate Nashawardee
Carolena Garrison
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One of the things Carolena Garrison enjoys most about her job as a restaurant hostess in Northern Virginia is the people – the regular customers, coworkers and managers she gets to work with each week. But now, thanks to a cutting-edge piece of technology provided by The Eric Fund, Carolena, who is legally blind, will be able to greet her family, friends, regular customers and coworkers before they even speak a word.

The Eric Fund purchased for Carolena an Orcam MyEye, a special camera device that mounts on glasses and acts as a visual aid for people with low vision. The MyEye’s facial recognition software can be programmed to recognize a number of people. When the camera sees a familiar face, it will speak the person’s identity into an earpiece Carolena wears. The MyEye also translates images and writing through the earpiece, allowing Carolena to read printed words on anything from forms to menus. Currently, Carolena requires assistance to read the restaurant’s table map to seat customers. “With the technology, I can run the floor plan and help my customers,” says Carolena. “(The MyEye) will make my job a lot easier for me. It will me give me more independence.” The Eric Fund is honored to provide this important piece of equipment to advance Carolena’s independence at home, work and in the community.

2017Nate Nashawardee
Francis Dwyer
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Francis Dwyer is a 27-year-old young man living with Downs Syndrome, who has already reached many milestones in his quest to live as independently in his community as he possibly can.

Although Francis had a part-time job at the time his application was submitted, he was relying heavily on a job coach to help him complete the requirements of his job, rather than working more independently. Francis, along with his mother, his job coach and his AT specialist, mapped out a list of goals and implementation strategies to make progress in three key areas of his life: work/vocational skills, activities of daily living, and community living and recreation.

His mother, Jeanne, aware of what a difference some simple apps could make in her son’s life, applied for an Eric Fund grant on her son’s behalf in hopes of securing an iPad for Francis, and the Ablelink, Endeavor 3 app and Google Calendar.

One challenge that Francis faces in his day-to-day life is remembering what tasks he needs to complete and at what time. The app is an iPad-based monitoring system that helps an individual live more independently by creating daily schedules for work and activities of daily living, daily medication reminders, all things with which Francis needs assistance. The Endeavor 3 is helping Francis create a weekly calendar with visual and auditory reminders of what he needs to accomplish. He hopes to one day use it to help him learn how to follow a recipe and cook a simple meal. Francis’s mother expressed her extreme gratitude to The Eric Fund for providing the technology that will enable her son to continue his progress on his path toward independence.

2017Nate Nashawardee
Alana Dimapilis
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Ten-year-old Alana is one of five children in a large family that struggles month-to-month to make ends meet. Alana’s mother, Loretta, describes her as a happy, thoughtful little girl who is always smiling and loves Pokemon!

When Alana was born she was diagnosed with Opercular Syndrome (also known as Foix-Chavany Marie Syndrome), a paralysis of the facial and laryngeal muscles (among others).  As a result of this condition, Alana is unable to speak verbally. The Eric Fund awarded Alana with an iPad, that she will use as a communication device both at home and at school so that she can better interact and communicate with her family, friends and classmates.

Alana had been using an iPad paired with the Proloquo2go app (with a built-in speaker) as a communication device at school. The Eric Fund provided Alana with a special case with speakers for the iPad a couple of years ago. When the iPad broke, the school would not replace it, which severely inhibited Alana’s progress on mastering the device, let alone her ability to communicate with those around her.

It is expected that Alana will always need to rely on a speech-generating device. With her own device awarded by The Eric Fund, she will continue to build both the skills and confidence that will move her toward living a more independent life.

2017Nate Nashawardee
James Aliban
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At 14, James Aliban has endured more than any young boy should. He has undergone two open-heart surgeries, a bone marrow transplant, and is currently in remission from leukemia. In addition, he lost his mother to cancer three years ago, leaving his father as his primary caregiver.

Due to his hearing loss in both ears and limited verbalization skills, James had been using the LAMP Words for Life app on his iPad to communicate as best he could. However, this solution was far from ideal; while the LAMP Words for Life app was helping him gain the ability to express himself, progress was slow. He needed a device dedicated solely to communication.

James was nominated for The Eric Fund grant by his speech-language pathologist, who believed that the Accent 1000 – an augmentative communication device manufactured by the Prentke Romich Company – used with the LAMP Words for Life language system would help reduce James’s frustration and support additional language learning. Using the app with the Accent 1000 would give James a way to communicate in all settings throughout his day, improve his social connections, learning opportunities, and ability to express his wants and needs.

Unfortunately, the $7,500 cost of the Accent 1000 was more than the maximum amount that The Eric Fund awards any one applicant, which put in jeopardy the possibility of getting James this life-changing technology.

Enter Prentke Romich. The Prentke Romich Company has been a leading manufacturer of augmentative communication devices for more than 50 years. The Eric Fund has worked with PRC many times over the years, to provide assistive technology to our award winners. When an Eric Fund board member reached out to them about James, they were ready and willing to help.

At its annual silent auction fundraiser on May 1, The Eric Fund featured a special “fund an item” component specifically designed to raise money to put toward the purchase of the Accent 1000 for James. The Prentke Romich Company generously donated the remaining amount, allowing the grant to go through and allowing James to have a voice.

James Aliban, his father Anastacio, and the entire board of The Eric Fund are tremendously grateful for the generosity of the Prentke Romich Company for making this grant possible! 

2017Nate Nashawardee
Roxie

Six-year-old Roxie did not take kindly to being mistaken for a baby. Roxie, who lives in Maryland and has cerebral palsy, was going back and forth to school in an adaptive stroller she had outgrown that was being held together by duct tape. The stroller required another person to push Roxie, and did not permit her to move on her own.

Her single mom had tried for more than two years to get insurance to pay for a proper power wheelchair for Roxie, but unfortunately, the more than $4,300 copay for the wheelchair and all of the necessary accessories were out of reach financially. This year, Roxie finally received the wheelchair she had been waiting for, thanks to help from The Eric Fund, which paid the copay for Roxie’s new power wheelchair.

Roxie now steers her own future, whether it is down the hallway at school, at home with her mom, or out in the community. Since the new wheelchair was customized for Roxie, it will accommodate her as she grows and will assure proper positioning.  “(Roxie) has a drive and strong desire to be independent,” says her mom. “She is ready to soar… (and with her new wheelchair she will) be empowered to be more independent in her daily activities.”

2017Nate Nashawardee
Chaya Brown

Chaya is a 23-year old Washington, DC woman with cerebral palsy that affects her ability to swallow and communicate verbally. The Eric Fund purchased an iPad Pro with a case and large switch to help Chaya communicate more effectively so she no longer has to rely on facial expressions alone to share her thoughts. Chaya, who is a wheelchair user, can use the switch to operate the iPad from her wheelchair and communicate with her family, friends, caregivers, and the community. Chaya’s mother and therapists tried to help Chaya secure funding for the device several times before, but insurance and other funding streams deemed the iPad, and in turn Chaya’s ability to communicate, not “medically necessary” and she was denied the device until The Eric Fund was able to provide it. Now Chaya plans to use the iPad to communicate with her family and friends and share her thoughts and ideas.

2016Nate Nashawardee
Marshal Wiliams
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Marshall is a 21-year-old young man from Fairfax Station, VA who has a brain injury, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and hydrocephalus. Marshall has had more than 20 brain surgeries in his young life and, due his disabilities, he needed assistance communicating more effectively, performing daily tasks and activities and additional technological support as he prepares to find a job. The Eric Fund purchased an iPad Pro with a stand and adaptive applications for Marshall to help him with these activities. iBlason, a company that makes tough cases and accessories for tablets and other devices, generously donated not one but two cases, and also sent an extended battery and cables in kind when contacted by The Eric Fund so Marshall could get the most out of his new equipment. Marshall plans to use some of the adaptive applications not only to help him become more independent, but also to help him pursue his interest in cooking which he enjoys greatly.

2016Nate Nashawardee
Jonathan Tower
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Jonathan is a nine-year-old boy from Woodbridge, VA who loves to be outdoors riding bicycles with his family and friends. Jonathan, who has autism, developmental delays and hypotonia, had difficulty operating a bicycle on his own and would ride along with his mother and father in a sidecar or other adaptive equipment. Since Jonathan outgrew the equipment and couldn’t ride along, his family had to face the tough choice of sometimes leaving him home or not biking as a family like they used to do. The Eric Fund purchased a special adaptive bicycle with a motor for Jonathan that will grow with him. The Eric Fund was able to purchase the Duet bicycle, which normally costs $9,000, thanks to a generous discount from the manufacturer, a division of Alber USA with whom we have worked before, and Jonathan’s extended family making up the small remainder. 

This adaptive bicycle has allowed Jonathan to once again enjoy one of his favorite activities and spend quality time with his family

2016Nate Nashawardee
Max Smith-Levin
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Max is an 11-year old boy from Warrenton, VA. He is completely blind and is very impacted by autism.

Max attends a public school where he receives both regular and dedicated classroom instruction. He has been learning Braille and making great strides. The Eric Fund provided Max with a Refreshabraille 18 and an iPad to enhance his learning. In November, his father took a class on how to use the Refreshabraille, so he can help Max use it at home in addition to school. 

Max is a talented musician and has played piano in the school talent show. Recently, Max was invited to join the 5th grade chorus. One of Max’s biggest challenges is that he has a hard time adjusting when something he enjoys ends. His mom hopes he will learn to manage this anxiety through participation in chorus.

Max also loves books, and two of his favorites are Whistle for Willie and Tacky the Penguin. In time, Max will be able to use his new technology devices to download and read independently

2016Nate Nashawardee
Joshua Greher
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Joshua is a 36-year-old man who works as a mail clerk near his home in Silver Spring, MD. He has Down Syndrome and vision impairment, which makes it difficult for him to read the fine print on mail, a recurring challenge of his job sorting mail. The Eric Fund awarded Joshua a device called a Smart flux Digital CCTV Hand Magnifier that magnifies text and makes it easier for Josh to see and read. Improved vision will lead to improved comprehension, which will result in Josh being able to perform more efficiently and independently at work.

Being able to see and read better will not only help Joshua with his on-the-job skills, but also with community integration, performing the duties required of him at home, and allow him to be more social outside his home. Joshua has been using the hand magnifier at home to read and to make healthier food choices, as he can now read food labels, recipes and preparation instructions.

The device was purchased from a store not far from where Josh works. His father said that they often stopped in to “test-drive” the device while walking to or from Josh’s job but were unable to afford it. They are very grateful to The Eric Fund for awarding Josh this technology that will allow him to perform better at work and live more independently.

2016Nate Nashawardee
Heidi Geiger
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Heidi is a two-year-old girl who was born with a host of disabilities that include low muscle tone, visual and hearing disabilities, seizures and dysphasia. When she was younger, she was dependent on oxygen 24-hours-day. Heidi’s needs have put an emotional and financial strain on the family. Her mother was forced to quit working and stay home to take care of Heidi, so they now must rely on a single-income to cover all the additional costs that accompany taking care of a special needs child.

Heidi’s parents very much hope that she will eventually be able to attend school like her older brother. In order to help her along that path, early intervention is imperative to both her physical and cognitive development. They applied for an Eric Fund grant primarily to secure assistive technology toys and tools that will help Heidi develop the necessary skills to enter the DC Public School System at some point in the future. Additionally, playing with adaptive toys and devices enhances Heidi’s ability to interact and “play” with her brother, which improves the quality of both of their lives.

In order to maximize her potential as she grows, Heidi will require more and more consistent access to age-appropriate assistive technology. The Eric Fund is happy to get her started down that path by providing the Geiger family with a variety of adaptive toys, switches and a “sensory wall” that will benefit Heidi at this vital early stage of her development. 

2016Nate Nashawardee
Amanda Chu
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Amanda Chu, an 11-year-old girl who started middle school this fall, was awarded an iPad Pro, case and keyboard from The Eric Fund to increase her independence both at school and at home.

Amanda’s mother and the people who assisted with assessing Amanda’s technology needs, feared that she was at risk for developing a “learned helplessness” and low self-esteem if she had to continue to rely on others to help her communicate and do her school work. Amanda is able to both write and type, but her spastic quadriplegia makes it difficult for her to write for long periods of time, so her preference has always been typing. She uses a computer at school and her mother’s iPad at home to do homework and FaceTime her teachers with questions. Her mother’s iPad is old, and does not have the necessary storage to accommodate both her work and Amanda’s work.

With her own iPad, Amanda will be more organized and be able to work more efficiently since she can use the same device at school and at home. The WiFi and cellular will ensure that she is covered in an emergency should she need to text or FaceTime her mother, a teacher or a friend. Lastly, and most importantly, having an iPad will – over time - increase Amanda’s ability to live a more independent and full life. 

2016Nate Nashawardee
Elliot Conecker

Elliott was born with vision impairments and developmental delays that impact his capacity to interact with his family and peers.  His parents had Elliott's first speech/hearing evaluation when he was not yet two, in hopes of getting a jump on determining which adaptive devices could help him thrive in his toddler years and hit the ground running in pre-school.  It was determined Elliott engaged well with speech generating devices and cause/effect switches to explore his environment.  The Eric Fund provided colorful toys and adaptive switches to help him learn to communicate and interact with is family. 

2015Nate Nashawardee
Benjamin
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Benjamin is a 17-year-old student who attends public school in Fairfax, Virginia. Despite a robust special needs program, the budgetary restrictions at Benjamin’s school makes access to technological devices difficult. Benjamin’s mom was thrilled to find out The Eric Fund helped fill the gaps in assistive technology funding and that the Eric Fund granted her son an iPad Air2®, a protective case, communication software and a two-year warranty for the device.

Benjamin’s mother is a single mom and has spent years working with the public school to maximize Benjamin’s potential. Benjamin has autism and has challenges communicating verbally. Upon hearing the news of the grant, she said, “I can’t believe it. Such wonderful news! There are so many things that Ben will now be able to do. The iPad will not only give him pleasure but will allow him to interact with those around him.” Benjamin’s iPad and new software will give him the means to communicate with his family, classmates and friends who will be able to follow Benjamin’s activities on the blog his parents created for him. His mom is also looking to Benjamin’s future needs when she is no longer able to support him. She feels his success will be greatly enhanced by his access and use of technology like the iPad and software Proloquo2go.

2014Nate Nashawardee
James Hyman
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A bright 7-year-old boy from Damascus, Maryland, James Hyman has Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia and ADHD. He is looking forward to an assistive technology grant from The Eric Fund to help him expand learning opportunities at school and communicate more easily with family and friends. His parents’ request to The Eric Fund for electronic aids such as an iPad, plus a special adaptive chair and desk, is an outgrowth of recommendations from his school and Children’s Hospital where he works with therapists. James has access to some of the equipment that assists him in learning and improving his communication skills at these locations, but needed the supports at home as well.

The school James attends focuses on supporting children with disabilities; however, the technology that is available to him at school and in his occupational therapy is not provided for his use away from the school or hospital environment. Because he experiences social and academic challenges, his teachers and doctors recommend that he use technology to enhance his education program and better communicate his thoughts by writing his assignments on a computer. According to James’s mother, Catherine, the family is hopeful that The Eric Fund award of an iPad Air2® will help build his confidence and allow James to develop life-long strategies he will use in school and once he graduates.

The Eric Fund is pleased to provide James with some of the assistance he needs to help him advance as he meets the challenges of each new level of school. A 2-year warranty will accompany the iPad.

2014Nate Nashawardee