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Easter Seals is a nonprofit charitable organization that assists more than one million children and adults with autism and other disabilities and special needs annually through a network of more than 550 service sites in the United States, Canada, Australia and Puerto Rico. Sites provide services, therapies and treatments tailored to meet the specific needs of the particular community it serves. The organization assists children and adults with physical and mental disabilities and special needs resulting from any cause, whether diagnosed at birth or incurred through disease, accidental injury or the aging process.
Easter Seals meets the standards of the National Health Council and the Better Business Bureau/Wise Giving Alliance.
The organization that would become Easter Seals was founded by Edgar Allen, an Ohio businessman who lost his son in a streetcar crash. The lack of adequate medical services available to save his son prompted Allen to sell his business and begin a fund-raising campaign to build a hospital in his hometown of Elyria, Ohio. That hospital continues to operate today as Elyria Memorial Hospital. After the hospital was built, Allen learned that children with disabilities were often hidden from public view. Inspired by this discovery, in 1919 he founded what would become the National Society for Crippled Children, the first organization of its kind.
In the spring of 1934, the organization launched its first "seals" campaign to raise money for its services after funding declined during the Great Depression. To show support for the program, donors purchased the seals and placed them on envelopes and letters, in addition to normal postage. Plain Dealer cartoonist J.H. Donahey designed the first seal. Donahey based the design on a concept of simplicity because those served by the charity asked "simply for the right to live a normal life." The overwhelming public support for the seals campaign raised $47,000, over twice the annual budget, and triggered a nationwide expansion of the organization and a swell of grassroots efforts on behalf of people with disabilities. In 1944, the organization broadened its mission to help adults and achieved a nationwide reach by 1950.
The lily, a symbol of spring, was officially incorporated as Easter Seals' logo in 1952 for its association with resurrection and new life. The creation of the Easter Lily as the seal was the work of Ruth Miley McClellan of Petersburg, Indiana. It was presented to the national headquarters of the organization in Chicago in October 1952 and chosen as the society's symbol at a convention in San Francisco where Mrs. McClellan attended as one of three delegates representing Indiana. It has appeared on each seal since then. By 1967, the Easter "seal" was so well recognized, the organization formally adopted the name "Easter Seals." Today, Easter Seals holds an annual seal art contest, open to the public. Each year, six winning seal artwork designs are chosen and featured on the seals. Easter Seals mails seals to more than 19 million households across the country every year.
Despite the use of Christian symbolism, the organization is not affiliated with any particular religious organization and does not discriminate. The similarly named Christmas Seals program started in 1908 and is associated with the American Lung Association.
Easter Seals offers a variety of services designed to meet individual needs. Therapists, teachers and other health professionals help people overcome obstacles to independence and reach their individual goals. Families are treated as active members of any therapy program. Services include, but are not limited to:
Easter Seals is a grassroots, community-based organization. Approximately 90 percent of Easter Seals' revenue supports services in the areas where funds are raised. For more than 25 consecutive years, Easter Seals has ranked first among National Health Council members for the percentage (94 percent) of program dollars spent on direct client services. Easter Seals receives funding from a variety of sources, including private insurers, government agencies, public contributions and fee-for-service. Public contributions help cover the difference between actual program costs and what clients can afford. Easter Seals primary services benefit over 1.3 million individuals each year through more than 550 centers in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and Australia.
Children and adults with disabilities disproportionately rely on government programs in order to access education, health care, housing, transportation and employment services. Easter Seals has been active in public policy advocacy since the 1920s, working with federal, state and local officials and agencies to advocate for the passage of legislation to help people with disabilities achieve independence. This includes the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Passed in 1990, the ADA guarantees the civil rights of people with disabilities by prohibiting the discrimination against anyone who has a mental or physical disability in the area of employment, public services, transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications.
Easter Seals headquarters offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C. provide assistance to 83 affiliates through management training, implementation of best practices, consultation services, fundraising, marketing and corporate relations. The headquarters office in Washington D.C. advocates for the passage of legislation to help people with disabilities achieve independence. Easter Seals public policy priorities focus on issues such as early intervention and education, employment, health care, child care, disability program funding, the Americans with Disabilities Act and services to aging Americans.
Nationwide, Easter Seals' 83 affiliates and over 550 service sites provide services to people with disabilities and special needs in their local communities. Each affiliate operates as an independent Easter Seals corporation.
Easter Seals is governed by a National Board of Directors, which is composed of volunteers, most of whom are nominated by one of the organization’s approximately 85 affiliates across the country. Elections to the Board, composed of between 15 and 19 members, are held annually by another larger volunteer body, Easter Seals National House of Delegates. Directors are elected for three-year terms, and terms are staggered to achieve strength and continuity on the board.
Easter Seals National House of Delegates consists of volunteers certified by their affiliates to represent them as delegates at the organization’s annual convention, thus ensuring broad representation of Easter Seals affiliates nationwide. In addition to the numerous training and motivational sessions offered to Easter Seals board members, delegates and affiliate staff throughout the convention, the Annual Meeting of the House takes place, when the house elects new members to the national board and addresses any other motions put before it.
Over the last 20 years, Easter Seals has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people with autism the organization serves, both through its services developed specifically for people with autism and through services that include children and adults with autism among other service recipients. The organization works internationally to provide children and adults with autism individualized treatment plans and comprehensive services.
Easter Seals programs across the country provide a wide variety of interventions that help individuals of all abilities, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Easter Seals currently has a combination of services specifically targeting individuals with the diagnosis of ASD as well as other services that include individuals with ASD among their service recipients.
1Easter Seals: Autism Services (http://www.easterseals.com/site/PageServer?pagename=ntlc8_autism_service)