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Working with Love - May 2021
 
Pasitos de Luz
Dear Friends of Pasitos de Luz and Casa Connor,

It is with great pleasure and relief that I begin our latest Boletín by sharing some good news with you all. On Monday April 12th, Casa Connor was once again filled with the sound of little voices. Yes, the kids are back! 

After more than a year since suspending services, our bus once again pulled in through the gates of Casa Connor. Twenty kids were helped off, looking forward to their first Pasitos breakfast in a long time. While most of the children were excited to be back, there were a few who were shy and tentative having being away for so long. But one thing was true of all the kids - they had grown and were genuinely curious to see what their day would bring. They were excited to see the gardens, the pool and our newest addition of ducks, geese and chickens, who were laying eggs they could help gather! While the moms had done their best while the children were at home, the kids are once again benefiting from our nutritious meals and a return to therapy and education. Our work to help the kids’ progress is beginning again! 

We are now open Monday to Friday, as before the pandemic. However, we have made changes to keep kids and staff safe. For example, we are welcoming groups of approximately 20 children per day, allowing us to see almost 100 each week. Previously we were welcoming up to 70 kids per day and accommodating 130. To make sure we see as many of our kids with the highest needs as possible, we have invited carefully selected groups, ensuring that they can attend at least once per week. We hope to get back to higher numbers as soon as the health situation will allow. We are also requesting that all our staff and kids wear face masks when on the bus, and that staff wear them inside Casa Connor. We take the temperature of everyone before they get on our bus and are being vigilant for coughs, fevers and other symptoms of COVID-19.

From a personal perspective, I am just so happy that kids have returned to their therapies and classes. Since Pasitos de Luz started more than 20 years ago, we have never had to close for this length of time, and I have seen first-hand the strain that this has put on the kids and their families. I have lost count of the number of phone calls I took from parents struggling to keep things together at home. Now these same moms and dads are dropping off their kids at the bus stop with smiles on their faces, safe in the knowledge that they are being well looked after. This makes my heart full!

Arturo Ayala with Irlanda and FernandaThe COVID ‘traffic lights’ in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit are now green and yellow respectively. This has allowed us to reopen. I pray every day that things improve and that we can soon start to welcome more kids. Thank you for being with us on this journey.

Bendiciones,
Arturo Ayala

General Director,
Pasitos de Luz in Casa Connor
How we are back helping kids at
Casa Connor
It has been wonderful to welcome kids back to Casa Connor. Our staff team has spent the past few months diligently planning classes and arranging therapy rotas, as well as cleaning, painting, planting and doing everything needed to ensure that our facility was ready for the return of the kids after the Easter holidays.

We would like to reacquaint you with the services that are provided by Pasitos de Luz at Casa Connor. Some activities are still on hold for the time being, such as music and dance workshops. However, we are pleased to confirm that our core services are back up and running. We explain more below.

Nutrition and Healthy Eating

All the children eat a healthy breakfast and lunch at Casa Connor. Breakfast is between 9am and 10am, while lunch is served at 2pm. We also make sure that the kids enjoy a midday snack of fresh fruit and juice to keep them going.

It is absolutely vital that our kids eat well, especially since a number of them do not eat well at home. We do educate families on healthy eating, but when family budgets are stretched to breaking point, it is not always easy to buy the right things. Therefore, we have always placed importance on serving healthy meals, supported by our hardworking kitchen team.

Enrique enjoying his breakfast

Physical Therapy

Physical rehabilitation has always been at the heart of our mission. Our name means 'Little Steps of Light' and helping kids to get on their feet and walk is a huge part of what we do. 

Before walking, however, most of our children have to reach other important milestones first. For example, something like being able to hold up his head unaided is a big challenge for little Mateo, who has Cerebral Palsy. We would love to see Mateo walking. For the time being, though, our therapist Monse is focussing on exercises that encourage him to raise his head and develop strength in his neck. Watch Mateo's progress below.

Monse working with Mateo in physical therapy

Hydrotherapy

The new therapy pool at Casa Connor is an incredible resource of which we are intending to make the very most. We have already run several sessions in the pool, including a session involving Pasitos moms in April. This was a truly heartwarming experience that enabled the mothers to bond with their sons and daughters in the water. You can see the smiles for yourselves in the video below.

Mia and her mum bond during a hydrotherapy session

Special Education

Casa Connor has three classroom spaces in which groups of older and/or more physically independent children are taught the things that will help them be as independent as possible in their future lives. We work from a carefully constructed curriculum that teaches children basic things like days of the week, shapes, fruits and vegetables, through to more advanced maths, reading, writing and even some basic English. Currently we are only allowing a maximum of five children per classroom.

Vanessa teaches Danay the 5 vowels

Nursery

Infants and toddlers are looked after in our nursery area, or Niñeras as it is known in Spanish. This is also where we care for some older children who have more severe intellectual and/or physical disabilities.

Our nursery is large, bright and airy, the perfect environment to keep kids clean and cool. There is an area of cribs for napping, a couple of play rooms full to the brim with toys, a very busy diaper-changing area and a TV room with beanbags.

Claudia changes Leo in our nursery area

Alternative Therapies

Casa Connor is situated on a hectare of land, of which a large part is made up of beautiful gardens and green spaces, or huerto. This is where we run a number of alternative therapies, which provide many benefits to the kids, complementing the more traditional therapies that they receive.

We have been trying to use our green spaces more than ever, since it gets kids out in the fresh air, where there is much less chance of transmission. For example, we have been encouraging kids to tend to their own plants and to care for the farmyard animals that now live on site.

Rocio and Jese enjoying nature
We are Mothers United!
Did you know that the officially registered name of Pasitos de Luz is Mamás Unidas por la Rehabilitación de sus Hijos A.C.? This means Mothers United for the Rehabilitation of their Children. 'A.C.' stands for 'Civil Association'.

Ever since we first started as a charity twenty years ago, moms, and particularly single moms, have been at the heart of our mission. Many mothers in Mexico, whether single or not, have to work to be able to make ends meet in their households. This is where we come in to support them. We look after their children Monday to Friday, doing everything for these kids while they are in our care, as you will have read above. For many families, we are their lifeline.


For this reason, El Día de las Madres (Mother's Day) is a particularly important date in the calendar for us, celebrated on May 10th. We always close on Mother's Day, allowing families to spend time together, including our staff team, which is made up of many mothers. 

Paola Rivera and Irma Barraza are two such moms. Both work at Pasitos de Luz and both have a child with a disability who also benefits from our services. They asked to appear in this edition of our Newsletter, to tell you a bit about themselves and their lives.

Paola and Kristian in the laundry

Paola is 38 years old, is a mother of two and has been working at Pasitos de Luz for just over a year now. She works in our laundry, where she is doing a fantastic job.

Paola currently lives in San Vicente, the small town close to Casa Connor, with Kristian's dad Ignacio, who has two children of his own. It is a busy household!

She first came to Pasitos de Luz because her youngest son Kristian desperately needed care. Kristian was born prematurely, at 32 weeks, and then tragically lost his left arm due to a medical oversight. He has a number of developmental disabilities and is fed both orally and through a tube to his stomach. Paola had been looking for a place to take Kristian for therapy and, when she was told about us by her neighbour Isabel, whose son César also attends Pasitos, she knew she had found the perfect place for him. We were more than happy to enrol little Kristian and to offer Paola a job, since it was obvious that her needs at home were pretty overwhelming.

We asked Paola to answer two questions for us, which she kindly agreed to do.
 
Paola, what does it mean to you to be a mother of a child with special needs?

"For me, to be a mother of a little boy with disabilities is something very special, although it is also very difficult at the same time. However, I don't feel conflicted about this. Kristian is truly a blessing that has come into our lives and we are so grateful."

How has Pasitos de Luz helped the lives of you and your family?

"Pasitos de Luz has helped enormously in Kristian's physical and emotional development. When Kristian arrived at Pasitos he was very underweight. Now he has the strength to sit up by himself! I can't thank Pasitos enough for all the help they have given my family."

Irma and Lupita in the Pasitos kitchen

Irma has only recently started working at Pasitos de Luz. We needed an extra pair of hands in the kitchen and, since Irma had lost her job in a restaurant because of restructuring due to COVID, she was very grateful for the opportunity of stable employment. And we are very grateful to have her!

Irma's youngest daughter Lupita is a familiar face at Pasitos. She has been attending since she was just 8 months old. She is now 8 years old!

Little Lupita has a dual diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy and Dandy Walker syndrome. She was born prematurely, which accounts for some of the challenges that she faces. However, aged 2 months, she was also involved in a bad car accident, which sadly resulted in severe head trauma, accounting for many of the major psychomotor problems that she has also had to overcome.

Irma really struggled during Lupita's early years. She has two other children, who were in their early teens when Lupita was born, and found it very difficult to balance her responsibilities of caring for a disabled child with raising two teenagers, plus keeping down a full-time job. Fortunately, she has had Pasitos for support which, as Irma explains below, made all the difference.

Irma, what does it mean to you to be a mother of a child with special needs?

"It is something that is both difficult and beautiful. It's beautiful because I have Lupita with me all the time, but it's tough sometimes because I find it hard to provide for all the different needs that she has. That's just the way it is though and I have to put my heart and soul into caring for her."

How has Pasitos de Luz helped the lives of you and your family?

"Pasitos de Luz has been a huge support for us as a family. The special care and therapies that Lupita receives are second to none and, thanks to this, we have seen big improvements in her. I thank God for all the help that we have been blessed with." 
 
How you can help us right now
The last 12 months have not been easy, but we have learned a lot. We have learned that we can adapt as an organization to the changing needs of the population that we serve, both inside and outside of Casa Connor. We have also learned that our support base will rally round us when we need them most. Thank you, our friends and supporters, for being there for us at our hour of need. It feels good now, however, to be looking to the future and to be planning for a more 'normal' second half of the year.

So what is most needed at Casa Connor right now, as we restart our essential activities and welcome back kids Monday to Friday?

We are in need of monthly donors. A regular donation of any amount every month helps us become sustainable. By joining our Love Pasitos Monthly campaign, you can make that difference.

If you prefer to give to specific needs, a few things have jumped out at us as particularly necessary since the kids have returned, and these are the things that we would also really like your help with.

Polo shirts for uniforms

We could really do with more uniforms for our kids

We would really like all our kids to have their own Pasitos de Luz polo shirts (you can see Alexis sporting one in the photo above!). Not only are they smart, but they also keep kids nice and cool during the hot summer months.

It would be great if each Pasitos child could have two polo shirts, which they can take home and call their own. Since we care for 130 children in total, we are asking for help with 260 kids polo shirts. These can be plain white. We will take care of having the logos sewn on.

If you would like to help out with our kids' uniforms, please get in touch by email at info@pasitosdeluz.org and we will explain more.


Air conditioning for our entrance and reception areas

We are asking for help to install air conditioning units in Casa Connor

The hot months in Puerto Vallarta and Nayarit last from May until November. Temperatures can reach 35⁰C (95⁰F), with almost 100% humidity. While the classrooms, therapy spaces, nursery and other areas of Casa Connor have air conditioning, our main entrance and reception spaces do not and can get very hot. Things get particularly oppressive mid-afternoon, when the kids are waiting in reception to be helped onto the bus. It can also mean that visitors get uncomfortably hot when they arrive at Casa Connor. We would love these spaces to be fresher and more welcoming!

In total, we are asking for help with five 2-ton Magnum 19 Inverter air conditioning units. You can see where each one would go in the video above. Just click on the image to watch!

If you think you are able to help us with one or more of these A/C units, again please contact us at info@pasitosdeluz.org. Any help with this would be hugely appreciated.

A Set of Therapy Stairs

Our kids would really benefit from these therapy stairs

A set of practice stairs is a resource that our physiotherapists have identified as a priority for physical therapy at Casa Connor.

We have been fortunate to have received donations of a treadmill and balance bars, both of which have been hugely helpful in our work to get kids on their feet and walking. Our therapists, however, tell us that even more progress could be made if we had some way of encouraging kids to climb stairs and ramps. This type of exercise helps children to strengthen the key muscles in their legs, such as the quadriceps, hamgstrings and calves. It also helps to strengthen bones and glutes, while at the same time improving hand and feet coordination. It's a win-win! 

Monse, our lead therapist, has picked out the therapy stair and ramp set pictured above, manufactured by the Mexican company GVM, as a perfect solution. Full specs are available at grupovaell.com (price is in Mexican pesos).

Please email info@pasitosdeluz.org if you think you could help in any way. Thank you so much for your kindness!
 
Our Sincerest Thanks  Our Sincerest Thanks  Our Sincerest Thanks
The safe return of kids to therapies and classes, after such a long time away, is a huge achievement that could not have happened without the support of each of you, our dear friends. Whether you gave to our digital fundraisers, contributed to food parcels, made a one-time donation to our bus or pool projects, or continued supporting us through a monthly donation, we are so so grateful to each and every one of you.

In particular, we would like to make a special mention of the group in Calgary and other parts of Canada who joined forces to run the hugely successful Making a Difference fundraising campaign. This virtual fundraiser was held in December last year. The fundraiser consisted of a matching donation campaign and an online silent auction. The event was successful in raising funds for approximately 3 months operations. The committee that spearheaded the virtual fundraiser included Clarence Weening, Stephen Verhoeff, Teena Oudman, Erica Brooks, Lori Clayton, Jamie Nielsen and Barb Bremner. Our sincerest thanks for all of their time and effort with this new fundraiser medium! 

Our thanks also go to three amazing children in Alberta, Canada, who did their bit to raise vital funds for the kids in Mexico. Shelby is 11 years old and wanted to help out by making and selling her own friendship bracelets, while Emma and Noah, who are brother and sister, created hand-made bookmarks as winter stocking-fillers. Between them they raised over $3,000 Canadian dollars! Great work guys. Read more about Kids Helping Kids here!

We have also been fortunate to receive support from local hotels and resorts, who have shown their committment to giving back to communities in need. The Hard Rock Hotel in Nuevo Vallarta has been a long-term supporter of ours and makes a monthly contribution through their Hard Rock Heals Foundation. This year, ahead of Earth Day on April 22nd, they also donated a selection of beautiful plants for our green spaces.



The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta recently donated dozens of toys to the children of Pasitos de Luz, to give them an extra special Día del Niño (the Mexican national children's day) on April 30th, and are now working with us on a very special fundraiser, the Pasitos Under the Stars Charity Dinner, happening on Wednesday June 23rdReserve your table here!

We would like to sign off this May newsletter by recognizing a very hardworking Puerto Vallarta charity that has, since 1985, been doing a lot for local people here, including the children of Pasitos de Luz. The International Friendship Club (IFC) is made up of members from many countries, all of whom share a passion for the city of Puerto Vallarta and for giving back to its people. The IFC's unique and very successful Cleft Palate Program, in particular, has made a difference to hundreds of children's lives. Thank you IFC for everything you do!
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