When Easter Seals started a sibling group at its
Villa Park location three years ago, the staff knew Holly Aldrich
was the best person to head up the new program. Aldrich, who has
cerebral palsy, had grown up receiving therapy at Easter Seals and
her bubbly personality charmed everyone.
"She knows what it's like to be that kid in therapy, so
that kind of flows over into having a pretty good knowledge of what
kids and siblings might need," says Sue Diver, social worker at
Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region.
Aldrich, of Elmhurst, is finishing her master's degree in
rehabilitation counseling psychology at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison. She earned a bachelor's in sociology and women's
studies at Illinois Wesleyan and has spent the last three summers
heading up the Summer Sibling Group. The group provides brothers
and sisters of children with special needs an opportunity to share
their feelings and experiences.
"It makes the process easier for everyone to give them
something to do while their sibling is in therapy," says Aldrich,
who plans art projects, games and activities for hundreds of
children who pass through the therapy center all summer. "It gives
the siblings the idea that they're special, too, and their role is
just as important as the other child."
Working with siblings has given Aldrich insight into how
disabilities affect everyone in the family.
"The disability has a ripple effect on how parents see the
world and how the siblings see the world," she says. "Oftentimes
the siblings have their own set of issues, but they can get
overlooked. They're expected to be fine. But having a disabled
sibling changes their world, too."
Aldrich has siblings of her own-Adam, 25, and Andrew, 18.
Having a brother just 18 months older gave Aldrich someone to look
up to, as she tried to keep up with him. Her parents, Meg and Mike,
taught her that while she may do some things differently or they
may take longer, it didn't mean she couldn't do anything she put
her mind to.
"My parents were really successful in instilling the idea
that while I have a disability, it doesn't have to define me in any
significant way," she says.
Diver agrees. "I don't believe that Holly has ever let her
disability get in the way of what she wants to do," she says, "and
at the same time, she's never used it as a crutch for what she
couldn't do. She focuses on what she can do, and she just has this
really overwhelming spirit about her."
Aldrich wants to take her experiences growing up with a
disability and use them in her career as a rehabilitation
counselor. She'll work with clients on everything from dealing with
their feelings to educational goals to family dynamics. While the
degree program she's in is geared toward adults, she hopes her
Easter Seals experience with children lets her work with everyone
in a family touched by disabilities.
In the meantime, Easter Seals hopes to get her back for at
least one more summer, but everyone knows she's destined to make a
difference in whatever she does.
Liz DeCarlo is the former senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.
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