Come take a walk with me

Published 11:38 pm Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dorian Foster doesn’t want you to walk in his shoes, but he wouldn’t mind if you walked alongside him.

Foster, along with Cassidy Fortenberry of Alabaster, Matthew Rasco of Indian Springs Village and Dennis Chapman of Jemison are Easter Seals ambassadors for this year’s Walk With Me event to be held March 14 at Veteran’s Park in Alabaster.

“I felt like it was such a great honor for him to be able to help Easter Seals when they have helped us so much,” said Dorian’s mom, Kim.

The Walk With Me event raises funds for the programs Easter Seals provides children across Central Alabama. Just last year the organization spent more than $160,000 on charity care; $60,000 of that was raised at the 2008 event.

“We receive no state or federal funding,” said Easter Seals Director of Development Kelli Keith. “Therefore our Walk With Me event is vital to our survival. In the past year, we went from seeing 217 children to seeing 300 children.”

Kim said she and her husband discovered Dorian was autistic before he even turned 2. While making that discovery was difficult, discovering Easter Seals made it easier, she said.

“He needed more, a lot more therapy. He didn’t have any speech until he was about five,” Kim said. “He makes noises and would take you to what he wanted. Now, they’ve really helped him a lot. He says some things in sentences and if he doesn’t get your attention he’ll say, ‘Please!’”

Communication for kids with special needs is crucial.

Tonya Fortenberry said Easter Seals helped Cassidy tell people what she’s really like.

“Cassidy is smart, but if you can’t tell people you’re smart they think you’re dumb,” she said. “They don’t even give you a chance.”

The energetic 9-year-old still has to learn how to slow down her speech so people can understand her. The augmentative communications device Easter Seals provided her helps her learn to put sentences together. Now, she can be clearer about what she wants or needs.

Tonya said a poem she once read describes what it was like to learn her daughter had downs syndrome.

“It’s like if you were planning a trip to France. You might try to learn a little bit of the language, look at a map or plan a few spots to visit. Then as the plane is about to land the pilot comes over the speaker and says, ‘Passengers, welcome to Holland.’ Of course you are upset because you were supposed to be experiencing France. Once you’re there you can’t be upset about not being in France, you’re in Holland. You learn to love the great things about Holland. Cassidy has brought a lot of great things into our lives and we love her for that.”

One of those qualities includes Cassidy’s intense focus on people. Tonya said Cassidy places more value on spending time with friends and family than anything else.

“Maybe we should all be more like that,” Tonya said.

Cassidy will tell you all about the upcoming Special Olympics events she and other friends will participate in. Dorian too is full of life.

“He goes to parks and loves arts. He plays with his siblings at home sometimes; he’d rather be alone but they don’t let him,” Kim said. “But he enjoys life.”

He was even the center of attention at a recent pep rally held Thursday. His school, Helena Intermediate, continues to climb closer to raising $2,000 in his honor.

The other two ambassadors are just toddlers. Dennis Chapman, 3, became ill at 9 months with the stomach virus rotavirus.

The virus caused dehydration, which led to a stroke resulting in damage that effected many areas of development. Doctors learned Dennis had been born with MMA, a disorder where the body is unable to break down protein. Physicians confirmed the MMA caused the dehydration, which led to the stroke. With physical therapy, Dennis has strengthened his muscles.

With the help of Easter Seals, two–year–old Matthew Rasco can communicate with his hands and eyes to make choices.

The physical therapy has strengthened his core enabling him to walk. Mathew has been receiving therapy at Easter Seals since November 2007.

To help more kids like these, walkers will gather at 9 a.m. Saturday for the 1.9-mile course.

Registration for the event begins at 8 a.m. For more information, visit