Welcome to the first edition of our quarterly e-Newsletter!
New Executive Functioning Program Teaches Kids Skills to Get Things Done
Not many kids can tell you what they want to be when they grow up and actually see that through to fruition. But that’s exactly what happen to CHAT Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and Assistant Director, Therapeutic Services Katie Trainor when she was 9-years-old. “My fourth-grade teacher’s daughter was an SLP and taught our class a Disney song in sign language,” said Katie. “I thought that was amazing and it probably began my journey into this incredibly diverse field.” As an undergraduate and graduate student at Eastern Illinois University, Katie found herself working with and conducting research under a professor studying executive functioning and language in preschool students. That exposure set the ground work for what is now CHAT’s newest program—Executive Functioning (EF) Program. Developed for middle school and high school students, Katie wrote CHAT’s EF curriculum to specifically address this time in a child’s life when they are expected to become more independent and take ownership over their academics. “What we found was that EF deficits in some students don’t really surface until fifth or sixth grade, when teachers become more hands off,” explained Katie. “Suddenly these children are having trouble turning in homework, planning their days, or managing their time.”
Executive functions are a set of brain-based skills that are essential for self-management and goal achievement. They allow us to focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. The brain needs these skills to help plan, organize, filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses and emotions. These skills are essential for success in everyday life, both in school and at home. “Executive functioning skills are the missing piece of the puzzle,” said Madhvi Verma, referring to her son Adi. “He has immense knowledge in subjects of interest such as space and geography, yet he required a lot of reminders and motivation to complete simple everyday tasks.”
The only one of its kind focused on language and also accessible to under-resourced families, CHAT’s EF program is uniquely structured to support students who struggle with attention, planning, organization, self-awareness and control, inhibition, and flexibility. “Two of my children struggle daily with executive functioning, so I see firsthand how their time management and organizational challenges impact not only their success in school, but their happiness and self-esteem,” said Karine Fiore, CHAT’s Executive Director. “Of all of our life-changing programs, this one is most personally meaningful to me. Executive functioning supports are typically private, 1:1, expensive tutoring services that are out of reach for most families. CHAT’s program is a game changer on access to skills that can make or break a child’s success in life.”
The EF program was designed to increase equity in access to services for children who cannot afford the private EF tutors, and CHAT intends to bring it to as many under-resourced children of color as possible. Unlike speech and language services, insurance coverage is tricky for EFs, so CHAT is hard at work seeking grants and donations to help fund scholarships for the program. This intensive 20-session program can be taught both virtually and in-person; like CHAT’s other programs, it runs in 90-minute classes, totaling 30 hours of direct learning service.
In addition to Katie, CHAT SLP and Assistant Director, Teletherapy, Twice Exceptional Services, Ciara Nally has also had a hand in refining and teaching CHAT’s EF program. “Ciara brings a very different perspective to our EF program,” says Katie. “As someone who was diagnosed fairly recently with ADHD and struggles with executive functions herself, she was key to ensuring that the EF program’s pattern of instruction made sense for kids who struggle with these skills.”
“I hope I can be a beacon or a light at the end of the tunnel for these kids,” says Ciara. “Like so many of these kids, my brain operates differently, and in many ways, I am learning right alongside them.”
CHAT’s SLPs expertly harness the important role language plays in the development and use of EF skills. For example, time management skills require foundational vocabulary skills that SLPs are uniquely able to support; planning skills require accurate sequencing abilities which SLPs frequently target and address; and organization skills require accurate categorization and analysis of features that are targeted by SLPs in vocabulary instruction. “I’m really proud of the success we’ve been seeing in students that have completed the EF program,” said Katie, “to see these kids develop strategies and goals on a daily basis and beyond is what this is all about.” Katie loves working with students that have trouble making connections with other people or struggle with behavior. “It’s so important to me that these kids can feel like they have someone to go to, and someone they can trust,” Katie explains. “I always want to be that safe person that will never judge anything a child says or does.”
If your child or a child you know could benefit from CHAT’s EF program, please reach out to our team. The EF program is a part of our summer programming. To learn more about EF and all of CHAT’s summer opportunities, please visit chatwithus.org/programs.
CHAT Launches New Associate Board
To communicate effectively is to pull your seat up to the table. Jessica Velazquez, inaugural chairperson of CHAT’s Associate Board, is determined to pull up her seat and that of others to achieve education equity and communication justice. CHAT’s newly launched Associate Board consists of young professionals who leverage their networks, skills, and advocacy to bring life-changing therapy to the communities that need them most. From connecting CHAT to charter schools in Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods, to building partnerships between CHAT and values-aligned speech pathology graduate programs, Jessica hopes to further our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives through a relational and community-centered approach. In a year of widening health and educational disparities, we are excited to collaborate with Associate Board members like Jessica to effect systemic change through empowered communication.
CHAT’s newly launched Associate Board consists of young professionals who leverage their networks, skills, and advocacy to bring life-changing therapy to the communities that need them most.
Yet Jessica’s commitment to communication justice began long before her work with CHAT. Born and raised in Chicago’s Marquette Park, she witnessed the inequities faced by her Black, brown, and low-income neighborhood while celebrating her community’s diversity. Her personal experiences ground her activism and career trajectory. After graduating with a degree in English Literary Studies at DePaul University, she worked at a philanthropic consulting firm and built a pipeline for diverse young professionals to enter the field. Wanting to engage in more direct work with marginalized communities, she began her current position as the Assistant Director at the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement. There, she spearheads the office’s data management, builds partnerships with the university’s surrounding neighborhood, and connects Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students to university resources.
Jessica’s wide-ranging professional experiences are linked by one salient thread: more than buzzword diversity, she is invested in intentional relationship-building and resource redistribution, and actively reimagines spaces to center the most marginalized. Through serving in CHAT’s Associate Board, Jessica hopes to continue this advocacy. A leader and liaison, she strives to use communication to not just bring more seats to the table, but to disrupt the systems that left many out in the first place.
CHAT would like to thank DEI Intern, Minna Natsuko Ito, for writing this article and for her tremendous contributions to CHAT over the past year. CHAT congratulates Minna on her graduation from Northwestern University, wishes her the best of luck as she pursues her Master of Science degree in Speech-Language Pathology at Boston University and looks forward to witnessing her impact through the life-changing speech therapy she will provide as an SLP.
Speech-Language Strategies Provide Hope for Success in School, Life and Beyond
Like many 13-year-olds, Jaeden loves gaming, watching anime, and even creating his own video games and posting them to his YouTube channel. He is also quite accomplished in his drawing and wants to someday work with animals.
But from an early age, Jaeden has struggled with a language disorder. “Jaeden’s brain takes longer to process language,” explained his mother Nana Russell. “It has been so important for him to learn how to use different strategies in order to understand, for instance instructions his teacher is providing, and then advocate for himself when he needs clarification.”
CHAT speech-language pathologist (SLP) Whitney Klein has worked with Jaeden on his close reading strategies such as finding key words, underlining unknown words, going back to the text to find answers, and more recently on high-level language skills such as context clues, summarizing, prediction and inferencing. “Jaeden is so bright,” said Whitney. “He has really taken the strategies he learns each week and put them into practice.”
“The other day I was stopped in my tracks when I heard Jaeden giggling during a teletherapy session with Whitney. Jaeden really doesn’t giggle, it was so heartwarming.”—Nana Russell, Jaeden’s mother
“I’m not sure what we’d do without Whitney,” says Nana. “Jaeden naturally is a very reserved child, but she has been amazing drawing him out. The other day I was stopped in my tracks when I heard Jaeden giggling during a teletherapy session with Whitney. Jaeden really doesn’t giggle; it was so heartwarming.”
During the summer of 2020, Jaeden had the opportunity to participate in CHAT’s new Executive Functioning (EF) program and spend extra time working on his self-advocacy, planning, and attention. These EF skills are vital brain functions that allow us to plan, organize, filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses and emotions. CHAT Assistant Director, Teletherapy, Twice Exceptional Services, Ciara Nally, had the pleasure of leading Jaeden’s EF group and was impressed with his ability to gain self-awareness of the EF skills he is missing by advocating for himself, asking the right questions, and knowing where to look for answers. “This group-oriented program was a great experience for Jaeden,” said Nana. “Even though it had to be taught online because of COVID, he was able to not only learn new skills, but also connect with his peers as students were able to problem-solve together and support one another. We’re excited for him to participate in the program again this summer.”
It’s hard work, but Jaeden has proven to himself and to his mother that he can stay on task, eliminate distractions around him, and speak up when he has questions or needs further instructions. “The therapy sessions with Whitney and the summer Executive Functioning program have been game changers for Jaeden,” said Nana. “He has opened up so much and become so much more independent.”
Voices of Value
Your Support Makes CHAT’s Life-Changing Work Possible
“As a parent, you want the best for your child and you’ll do whatever it takes to help your child succeed,” said Madhvi Verma. “But what if you lack the time or the resources to make that happen for your child? What if you simply cannot afford to make that a reality?” For Madhvi, the ability to connect her son to CHAT’s services and provide him with the tools to be successful in school not only benefited her family, but put her on a path to advocating and supporting CHAT at a much deeper level. It’s the social justice aspect of CHAT that speaks to Madhvi’s passion for providing access to health, wellness and performance improvement resources to all in our society. “CHAT is democratizing access to resources to sections of society that could not otherwise afford it. That to me is what makes CHAT so special.”
In 2020, Madhvi joined CHAT’s volunteer board of directors and became instrumental in helping CHAT navigate a new information technology system with her background in the electrical and computer engineering industry. “I think my passion for helping and serving people, especially youth, is what connects me to CHAT and its mission,” said Madhvi. “We all bring different resources to the table, but we can all play a part in making this community we live in a better place.”
During this past year of unprecedented challenges, the demand for CHAT’s services has grown exponentially, and continues to climb. Almost 90 percent of CHAT’s Chicago students come from low-income families and more than 95 percent of these students are children of color. The disparities in access to vital health and educational services continue to widen in these communities. Every day children are marginalized because of learning differences; every day children are misunderstood because of speech and language disorders; every day children struggle to communicate. “When you donate time and funds to CHAT, your gift creates a ripple effect that goes beyond your original intent,” said Madhvi. “It provides CHAT with the resources it needs to sustain and scale their work to reach more children.”
“Our gratitude to our volunteers and donors in 2020 is hard to express,” said CHAT’s Executive Director Karine Fiore. “During this extraordinarily difficult time, our supporters continued to believe in CHAT’s vital mission to serve those with few—if any—other options.”
“CHAT is democratizing access to resources to sections of society that could not otherwise afford it. That to me is what makes CHAT so special.”—Madhvi Verma, CHAT Board Member & Parent of Student
Without individual and organizational donors, CHAT’s impact could not exist. Without you, a cry for help goes unanswered, a problem goes unsolved. Your gift of $100 enables CHAT to provide three therapy sessions for children on Medicaid. Your donation of $500 enables CHAT to provide three full scholarship evaluations for children who lack insurance. And your $1,000 gift funds a scholarship for one child to attend one of CHAT’s life changing 20-session summer programs. Please consider joining CHAT as an Advocate, and providing a recurring monthly gift. Not only does that help CHAT to plan year-round, it’s also easier on your bank account. When you become an Advocate with a commitment of $20 per month, we’ll send you a CHAT T-shirt; if you commit to $50 per month, we’ll send you a CHAT sweatshirt. Recurring Advocates giving $100 or more per month will receive both as well as a place of honor on CHAT’s new wall of giving in its renovated Lombard clinic. All Advocates will be listed on CHAT’s website.
“As someone that has personally seen the affect CHAT can have on a child’s life, it has highlighted for me how profound our need is as a society to bridge the gap in communication services,” said Madhvi. “Despite the challenges we faced this past year, our compassion can still shine bright through our support of CHAT. We can all do more—fund more—to allow every child to reach their full potential regardless of their family’s ability to pay or any other circumstances.”
Donors Invited to Support New Space
Become a Cornerstone Sponsor Today
We’re creating an inspiring atmosphere for the kids that inspire us every day! CHAT’s Lombard clinic is undergoing a much-needed renovation and we’re looking forward to sharing this bright new space with our clients, their families and the community. With support from CHAT’s board of directors and generous vendors, the clinic space will offer a splash of color, new flooring and furniture. “The support of board members Tom Noonan, Tyler Jeffrey, and John Seybert, as well as discounts from Rieke Office Interiors, Pittsburgh Paint, and Engineered Floors made this renovation possible,” said CHAT Executive Director Karine Fiore. “We are thrilled to soon have a space as welcoming as our therapy.”
Donors will now have the opportunity to underwrite and help CHAT sustain the space with annual Cornerstone sponsorships. You can become a therapy room Cornerstone sponsor for $1,000 and open the door to a vibrant and warm environment that will support the vital speech-language services CHAT provides. As a CHAT Cornerstone sponsor your name will be displayed at our Lombard clinic. You will also receive acknowledgement as a Cornerstone sponsor on CHAT’s website and in social media.
CHAT will be reopening its renovated space for in-person therapy beginning in early June.