Special Needs Children Inspirational Stories from Pasitos de Luz
Barb Bremner - Pasitos de Luz

April 17, 2019

Read about our recent highlights...

• At the Heart of Pasitos - our Niñeras team and what is involved in looking after our smallest and least independent children

• A Pasitos Story - how we came to the help of Socorro in her time of need

• Results - we tell you about our record number of therapies in 2018

• Our Las Vegas Raffle is back for 2019!

• Sincerest Thanks to all our friends and supporters this winter.
At the Heart of Pasitos
Anyone who has visited CASA Connor will have seen a huge range of children, from tiny babies to toddlers to teenagers. They will also have seen children with extremely high needs being fed by hand at lunchtime and breakfast, while other children ably feed themselves.

Depending on their level of need and independence, children will be supported in different areas of CASA Connor. The area in which our smallest or most dependent children are cared for is called Niñeras. This is our Nursery! We took some time to speak to the Niñeras team and find out exactly what is involved in looking after this group of children. The team is made up of Claudia, Carmen, Socorro and Laura.

Claudia (pictured right) is an old hand in Niñeras and coordinates the team there. She is 33 years now but first became involved with Pasitos de Luz when she was just 14. She was among the very first women who came to us in 1999 with a child with disability. This was her little brother José Angel, for whom Claudia was a full-time carer, since their mother had to go out to work. José Angel has Hydrocephalus, an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid, resulting in pressure on the brain. Claudia brought José Angel to Pasitos week in, week out, until he reached adulthood. Thanks to the excellent care he received, José Angel is now an independent young man in his twenties, working at Hotel Samba Vallarta and enjoying his life.

Even after José Angel stopped coming to Pasitos de Luz, Claudia carried on working here. She couldn't stay away! “I love being with the children each day" says Claudia "because, as a mother myself, I can’t help feeling that they are my own kids while they are here at CASA Connor. If I left, I would miss them too much”.

Claudia has done an amazing job of moulding the Niñeras team and department into a well-oiled machine, putting her 20 years of experience to excellent use. As soon as our bus arrives at 9am, Claudia and her team help the children off and move them into the canteen, where they have a healthy breakfast. Half of the children are fed by hand and half can eat by themselves, with a little bit of supervision. Luckily all the kids are given bibs to keep them reasonably clean! After breakfast, the team move the kids into the Nursery area, which is nicely cool and air-conditioned. All the kids are cleaned up, have their nappies/diapers changed and are given a drink of water. Throughout the morning, kids will be collected by our therapists to receive their therapies, while those remaining in Niñeras will play, listen to music, watch TV or have a nap. Luckily we have plenty of comfy cots/cribs in which they can sleep!

Lunch time is the busiest and most stressful time of the day for Claudia and her team. In the space of an hour they have to feed up to 25 children, each child being given a specific-sized portion, sometimes with extra fibre depending on need. Some kids will have their food mashed while others will eat it whole. Some children will have allergies and some take medicines. Claudia knows each child’s requirements by heart, though there are also guidance sheets on the walls for reference. After lunch, each child is cleaned up again and their clothes are changed. Inevitably, at least one child will need their nappy/diaper changed last minute, just before the bus leaves! They are then delivered sparkly clean to their parents.

Claudia says that the morale in the Niñeras team is excellent. The staff know their roles and help each other when needed. They also have a laugh together! Most importantly, they love each and every one of the children they look after and treat them like their own children for the time they are at CASA Connor.

A Pasitos Story - How we came to the help of Socorro in her time of need

Pasitos de Luz has grown a lot since its humble beginnings in 1999 when, as Yolanda Sánchez, the charity’s founder, recalls “I joined a group of eight mothers of children with different disabilities. We began to work together with their children in just one room of a house”. Now our charity supports more than 130 families in both Jalisco and Nayarit and moved into a much bigger home, CASA Connor, in January 2017. We are aiming to support up to 200 families.

As a charity grows, the danger is that it loses touch with the very community that it is there to help. Can a bigger organisation still stay true to its roots? We are pleased to say that, in the case of Pasitos de Luz, the answer is a resounding “yes”!

The best way to evidence how we are still very much a grassroots community project is to tell the story of one of our long-term members of staff, Socorro. Socorro is a mother to four girls, who came to Puerto Vallarta in the late 2000s to escape an alcoholic and abusive husband. She arrived as a paracaidista or “parachutist”, meaning that she didn’t have a place to live when she got here, but instead built her own home on disused land. As you can see from the photo, Socorro’s home is little more than a shack made of wood, cardboard and corrugated iron.

Socorro’s youngest daughter Angelita was born with severe physical and learning disabilities and was taken in by Pasitos de Luz in 2010. Since Socorro had few employment prospects, we gave her a job as one of our niñeras or “nannies”. Fast forward to 2018 and Socorro had been working at Pasitos de Luz for over eight years. Her daughter Angelita was coming to CASA Connor every day. On the 23rd August 2018, however, tragedy struck. Late that evening, Angelita stopped breathing. Just after midnight, Arturo Ayala, Yolanda’s son, received a heart-wrenching reverse/collect charge phone call. Socorro didn’t even have the money to pay for a phone call to announce the death of her daughter!

At this point, the Pasitos de Luz family whirred into action. Arturo arranged for a doctor to come out to Socorro’s home. He also spoke to the local funeral director to arrange for the funeral. Pasitos paid for everything. Socorro had no savings. The day of the funeral, CASA Connor was shut. Every single member of staff, and many parents of Pasitos children, went to little Angelita’s funeral. The church was full to bursting.

Socorro’s story really does show what an important role our charity still plays in the local community. There are at least ten members of Pasitos de Luz staff who also have disabled children at CASA Connor. All of these are single mothers whose partners abandoned them. We stepped in to help at their time of need.

It is still difficult for Socorro to come to work each day at CASA Connor because it reminds her of her lost daughter. Despite this, she is always joyful and devotes herself to the children in her care. She is also their family.
Music therapy at CASA Connor with Kristian

Providing effective therapies is a huge part of what we do at Pasitos de Luz in CASA Connor. Children arrive with a range of physical and psychological issues and we are here to help them manage and, if possible, overcome these. The therapies we offer are a vital part of this work. The great news is that we were able to provide more therapies than ever in 2018!

The overall number of physical therapy, early stimulation, occupational therapy and hydrotherapy sessions increased from 5,157 sessions in 2015 to 6,373 sessions in 2016 to 8,965 in 2017. In 2018, these same therapies plus our Temazcal (traditional steam therapy), music and dancing sessions totalled 9,045. This increase in therapies is directly related to us being in CASA Connor, where the greater space, both inside and out, means that we can provide more therapy sessions simultaneously, as well as more varied types of therapies.

So how does therapy work in CASA Connor? Each child enrolled at Pasitos de Luz has his or her own Support Plan, which details the types and frequency of therapies that will help that child to improve the most. Each child is also allocated a specific therapist, who will work consistently with that child, building trust and confidence. For example, Ricardo, or Richie as he is affectionately know, has Cerebral Palsy and receives his physical therapy from Belén, who logs his progress and updates his Support Plan. He also has music therapy sessions with Kristian (pictured above) each week, which he absolutely loves. As Kristian tells us, "Richie is a wonderful student who is a pleasure to work with. He takes a keen interest in percussion music, which is helping him improve his hand-eye coordination. Most importantly, it makes him happy and brings out his big smile".

We are always open to new types of therapies that will benefit our kids and improve their wellbeing. Last month we partnered with a US-based charity called Surfing with Nixon for Autism to run a surf therapy day in Nuevo Vallarta! We supported twenty-five Pasitos kids to go along and experience surfing for the very first time. Children as young as three were helped by a group of top pros to lie on their board, face forward and ride the waves. Banderas News has published a write-up of this incredible day.
Riverfest 8 exceeds all expectations
Riverfest 8 was an amazing weekend that raised much-needed funds.  
We are speechless! This year’s Riverfest 8 has exceeded more than we had dreamed.

We had 786 attendees at Riverfest 7. This year’s Riverfest 8 saw 1085 people attend which is an increase of about 38%. Last year at Riverfest 7, Pasitos de Luz received 363,140 pesos. This year we received 43% more. It’s amazing.

On Saturday, 614 attendees came through the gate (and every one of them had seating)! The food supplied by El Rio BBQ Bar, Portobello and Barcelona’s Tapas was outstanding. The vendors, auction items, 50/50 draws and more added to the main musical attraction. The Gecko Band started the day followed by Anna & the Others, Texas Embassy Blues Band, The Jokers and La Trez Cuartoz. Sunday brought another 471 people in to continue enjoying the music fest with Piel Canela, The Cheko Ruiz Band, Los Bambinos and Johanna’s Band.

More than 225 auction items were available during the two days with over 95% of them being snapped up. Three 50/50 draws, donation jars and vendors helped bring in more support.

This year we had band sponsors whose contributions also help Pasitos de Luz to continue to offer all of our services: Bacha’s Mexican Restaurant, Café Roma, Captain Don’s, Casa Isabel, El Torito Sports Bar and BBQ House, HGH Vallarta, Murphy’s Irish Pub, Nacho Daddy, Pasitos Volunteer Group, Puesta Del Sol Centro, ReRunsRFun, Roxy Rock House, Silva Brisset Realtors, Vallarta Lifestyles. In addition, the Vallarta Tribune, as our major media sponsor, provided significant profile for the event and Print PV provided printing services support.

Sincerest thanks to the musicians, band sponsors, vendors, businesses and individuals who donated auction items, the volunteers, media technicians, MCs Ron Spencer (Saturday) and Kyle Sinner (Sunday), and all of you who attended and supported us in any way.

A very special thank you goes to Kurt Sinner from El Rio BBQ Bar who had the vision for Riverfest and works tirelessly to make this all happen. His belief in Pasitos de Luz is genuine and his contribution of a percent of sales is significant. Also thanks to great team leaders Barbara Crompton, Larry Leebens and Verity Leslie.

To everyone involved - your support is how these children are able to receive much needed basic care and hygiene, therapies (physical, speech, massage and more), medicine, nutrition, including two meals a day, special education classes, exercise and recreational therapy programs, and access to specialists, doctors and psychologists. And it’s life changing for them!

...and of course, Pasitos de Luz at CASA Connor cannot thank Barb enough for all her time, effort and enthusiasm. You are an absolute star!  
Save the dates...
We rely on fundraising events to support our children and continue providing much-needed services at CASA Connor. These events are always great fun and you will also be benefiting a great cause. Even as the high season in Puerto Vallarta draws to a close, we are already looking ahead to winter 2019-20! We would love you to pop these dates in the diary...

• Illumination: Dinner, Show and Silent Arts Auction - Friday December 6th 2019
• Luncheon Fashion Show at River Cafe - Saturday January 11th 2020
• Riverfest at El Rio BBQ Bar - Saturday February 29th & Sunday March 1st 2020

We are so grateful to everyone who comes out to support us.   
Win the holiday of a lifetime to Las Vegas... again!

Our charity Raffle to win a dream holiday to Las Vegas was a huge success last year. We sold all 250 tickets, which raised an incredible 400,000 MXN ($27,000 CAD / $20,700 USD). This was a huge boost for us. Events and fundraisers like this still account for over 30% of our yearly income. They are absolutely vital.

We are, therefore, delighted to announce that we're holding a second Las Vegas Raffle this year! You have another chance to win the holiday of a lifetime to one of the entertainment capitals of the world. Like last year, the cost of entering the raffle is $100 USD / 1,600 MXN, with only 250 tickets available (those are great odds even in Vegas!). The prize package is worth over $12,000 USD.

Tickets are now on sale!

To get your ticket(s) and for full prize details, just visit Pasitos de Luz.

Thank you for entering our Las Vegas Raffle and for enabling us to continue doing what we do. We love you all.   
Our sincerest thanks
There are so many people to thank for all their help and support this winter. It's been an amazing journey!

As temperatures start to climb here in Puerto Vallarta and the green crops surrounding CASA Connor are harvested, we can reflect on everything that has happened this winter. It has been an incredible few months of hard work and collaboration, punctuated by some amazing fundraising events and valuable new relationships.

We have to start by thanking the doTERRA Healing Hands Foundation for their incredibly generous support of Pasitos de Luz at CASA Connor. On Tuesday 5th February we were honoured to welcome over 450 doTERRA Wellness Advocates to CASA Connor. This is the biggest volunteer group we have ever hosted! Months of planning went into making this a hugely successful 'giving back' day by doTERRA, who funded and helped build our amazing new perimeter wall, as well as supporting other exciting projects in our garden area. They have also sponsored five Mexican physiotherapists to spend a placement period at CASA Connor. We are so grateful to Mark, Tammy, Anne, Kathryn and Steven at doTERRA for their faith in us.

doTERRA specialise in essential oils, which have incredible health benefits, and which we are now integrating into our day-to-day therapies. Two doTERRA Wellness Advocates, Darren and Kristi Taylor, will be running workshops for our staff in May!

We would also like to say gracias to MobilityWorks, who visited us in February too. MobilityWorks, based in Cleveland and working across the US, do a lot to help people with disabilities be more independent. They produce adapted vehicles and other innovative solutions for people with mobility issues. We really enjoyed showing Eric and his team round CASA Connor.

Thank you Tammy and the team at Nacho Daddy for running the hugely successful fortnightly bingo afternoons that raise much-needed funds for us. Thank you to our tireless volunteers Barb Bremner, Barb Crompton, Verity Leslie, Larry Leebens, Shelley Ware, Marlene Hosey, Melissa Schroeder, Cindy Smith and Alex Daoud for running some amazing fundraising events.

There are so many more people to thank. You know who you are! Thank you to all our friends and supporters. Muchas gracias.

We appreciate all donations large and small. More information here.

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