Parade with Santa sparks smiles at Carson City children’s home
The joy and excitement from the residents’ faces at the Eagle Valley Children’s Home lit up the night Sunday as bright as the lights from the motorcade coming to visit them.
Santa Claus made a stop at the home atop Big Daddy’s Bikes and Brews vintage fire engine as it took the lead in the procession. Other vehicles, driven by parents and relatives, Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong and some of his deputies and other supporters, delivered great smiles to Eagle Valley’s children and adults. They then stopped to help Santa deliver gifts to each of them – personalized making everyone’s Christmas more memorable even while COVID-19’s keeping families apart for now.
“It’s incredible, I can’t believe I’m a part of this,” Santa Claus said. “This whole part of the world is such a special place. Every year, my reindeer come to Northern Nevada for a little stretch of the legs before the big night, so I follow them along and I try to get involved in the community as best as I can, and this is probably the best opportunity I’ve had so far.”
Parents of the clients at Eagle Valley Children’s Home, a medical care facility housing children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, haven’t been able to visit their children in the program since March due to the pandemic.
“I thought it was perfect, especially now since we can’t really be with our children,” Jeannie Sena, organizer of the motorcade and mother of a client, said Monday. “The staff – they’re an extension of us, they’re an extension of my family. They’re taking care of (my son) 24/7, and I can’t really visit him.”
Big Daddy’s Bikes, Ski & Board owner Keith Hart, opening the brew side of his business last year in the Carson Valley, said he was thrilled to be a part of Sunday’s event. His shop has been trying to overcome the “COVID Grinch” this holiday season by assisting at special events as requested, adding the community response to his efforts to bring beer deliveries and holiday cheer with his truck has been “fantastic.”
“We decided that we’d do something a little different and bring Christmas to the people that can’t get out,” he said. “Everybody thinks it’s the coolest thing. The people are amazing and the kids are even more amazing.”
Furlong rode in his truck along with two other patrol vehicles, all flashing their lights in the procession and adding to the excitement as they drove in the roundabout.
“This is a wonderful opportunity,” Furlong said. “So many of us, just like the kids, are stranded at Christmastime, and this parade tonight makes them feel included, and it gets a lot folks out here just to do the right thing and wave to the kids and make sure they feel that they feel that they’re one of us with us.”
Furlong praised Sena’s efforts to get involved in the community at Christmastime and reach a population that already experiences the difficulties of social isolation.
“It’s a wonderful outreach,” he added. “Even though we’ve got challenges that are difficult this year, a lot of these parades have spurred up as alternatives to the challenges, and they’re wonderful ideas to do.”
‘Anything and everything’
Eagle Valley has 18 full-time clients living in the home ranging in age from 10 to 54, all with different conditions, executive director Donna Clarke said. But COVID-19 has made it so the current restrictions are such that families simply are unable to come to the home. Clarke said in-person visits, apart from the occasional parades for graduations, with the clients have been restricted to Skyping, FaceTiming or telephone calls.
Before March, clients like Sena’s own son typically would enjoy simple car rides for groceries, attend Reno Aces games or to go out and eat a meal elsewhere and the coronavirus has limited these simple activities as well.
“Prior to the pandemic, we could do anything and everything in the community like anybody else – get meals, do shopping and all, and all that stopped,” Clarke said. “The clients have been very isolated. They can’t go into the community.”
As the restrictions begin to ease somewhat now, Eagle Valley is starting to encourage families to consider visiting their children more even if it’s from a distance, she said.
Currently, of the three school-age children staying there, the clients have daily sessions, and the staff assists in the remote sessions with their regular teachers teaching on the other end, Clarke said.
“Our staff has a great group of people here who have worked here many years and give them extra attention,” she said. “They’re really good about building their happiness.”
Next year, Eagle Valley celebrates its 75th anniversary and Clarke said she hopes to see its services such as its respite program in which staff goes out into the community to assist clients at home in the Quad County area come back to life. Due to the pandemic, this program in particular had to be cut back this year and Clarke said it’s essential to help revive it for local residents and to help with other training or medical needs as well.
“Fortunately, we have a very healthy group of people here,” she said. “I’ve been here 26 years now, and there are people here who’ve been here longer than I have. This is the best place in the whole world.”
Sena’s son, Eric Tedeschi, 36, was born full-term but with –4p syndrome, also known as Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, caused by the deletion of the fourth chromosome. This impacts facial appearance, delays growth and development and typically produces low muscle tone and skeletal and brain abnormalities, heart defects and other malfunctions.
Sena placed Tedeschi in Eagle Valley when he turned 21. He graduated from Carson High School at 22 in 2006, and he has lived there ever since. Recently, he was diagnosed with stage 3 chronic kidney failure.
Sena, who’s had breast cancer for 17 years, will be 67 next month and said she felt Eagle Valley at the time could offer her son more than she could give, though it was difficult giving up the time to be with him.
“He is a living miracle because they told me at birth he wasn’t going to live, he’d never walk, never talk, anything,” she said. “I told the doctors two weeks before Christmas he doesn’t have to talk, that he and I will communicate just fine. … All I did was just pray for an ounce of courage of what He gave Eric with all the operations. He’s a trooper.”
Sena said she’s been very thankful for the community support for her son, recalling his 30th birthday party at the Eldorado Resort Casino in Reno and a Reno Aces game where he was allowed to throw the first pitch at a game with assistance. Though he isn’t able to eat out as much anymore, Gleneagle’s Restaurant in Carson City is a favorite establishment of his, and Sena said she’s appreciate of all that the local businesses have done for her and her son.
“I try to make it happen for my little guy,” she said. “He appreciates it and knows it. … I think I need him more than he needs me.”
‘They’re the happiest kids’
Christiana Sorensen, 28 now, began tipping over from her tricycle when she was about 7. She couldn’t prevent herself from falling with her hands. She began drooling, and soon she couldn’t sit upright, her mother, Louise Sorensen, said. Her pediatrician said after some brain scans, Christiana had Angelman syndrome, a neurogenetic disorder that happens in early childhood impacting a certain gene in the 15th chromosome that exhibits similar symptoms to autism and cerebral palsy.
“They’re the happiest kids,” she said. “She would hug you and she’s just been a real joy in all the ups and downs.”
Christiana had scoliosis surgery at 10, spent 10 days at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Eventually in time as the family moved from Smith Valley to Carson City, where Christiana graduated from Carson High School, the family had to consider Eagle Valley Children’s Home to give her the help she needed.
Louise and her husband were troubled by what it meant to get Christiana the help she would need as she began experiencing seizures. But when they learned what Eagle Valley was truly about, she said they felt sure it was the best decision ultimately for Christiana.
“You get so tired of caring for them and hoping for the best and thinking, ‘I can do this,’ and you’re so tired,” Sorensen said. “The facility is incredibly clean, there isn’t any smells, and the care they get is just incredible. … And you think, ‘How can you walk away from your child?’ You want to take care of them.”
She said she was so happy to finally get the phone call that allowed Christiana to be admitted, and once she was taken in, she said it was a relief to know she would remain healthy.
Louise, too, has been grateful for the times the staff has taken Christiana out for outings before the coronavirus was announced in March.
“At Christmastime, they would take them for hot chocolate at the Governor’s Mansion and look at lights,” she said. “They have got so much up their sleeves.”
However, in June, she did come down with COVID-19, she said.
“It was upsetting,” she said. “We couldn’t touch her, we couldn’t hold her. When we could go see her, they were having behavior problems (with her). She would bite her tongue, and we thought, ‘This is not like her.’ We just wanted to connect with her, and we couldn’t.’ ”
However, while the current circumstances now remain challenging, Louise said her daughter still is happy and she’s grateful for Eagle Valley’s services.
“She would always have a smile on her face,” Louise said. “She’s got a strong will, always so happy, and she has a good appetite. She’s the love of my life. She loves to touch your hair.”
Louise said the staff works hard in three shifts to ensure the clients remain happy.
“Eagle Valley has been a real lifesaver for us and other families, too,” she said.