Family Thoughts

A note of thanks…

Hello friends!

I wanted to share with you the pictures from our amazing experience with the dolphins this last week. We had the wonderful opportunity to attend Island Dolphin Care’s 5 day program in Key Largo. This is a non-for-profit organization dedicated to helping children and families dealing with developmental and physical disabilities, emotional challenges and critical, chronic or terminal illness through the interaction with dolphins. I really have no words to describe what an amazing place this is and what happened there in just one week was truly magical and miraculous. Ariane and Sebastian had the time of their lives. When we got back, Cesar couldn’t believe how much Ariane’s speech, overall communication skills and eye contact improved and how her confidence grew in just one week. Her relationship with her brother, Sebastian, also bloomed and I am convinced it was due to the experiences they shared there.

Besides sharing this with all of you, my friends, I also want to get the word out about Island Dolphin Care and invite you all to check out their website, visit if you are in the Keys (they have an educational program as well) and I specially want to ask you to donate if you can. No matter how little or how much the money will go directly to help children and families overcome challenges and recover from illnesses like no other place can because we are witnesses to the power of positive experiences and truly believe that : “One joy scatters a hundred griefs”.

Please also share this with anyone that might benefit or might be interested in sponsoring these programs. :)

link to our pictures: http://idc.smugmug.com/2011DolphinTime-Out/Ariane-O/16477519_qkeWm
website: www.islanddolphincare.org

UPaula Bendfeldt-Diaz
Bear Hugs Support Group Facilitator/ Educational Outreach
Healthy Start Coalition Southwest Florida
Every Baby Deserves a Healthy Start
239-321-3829 cell
www.healthystartswfl.web.officelive.com

Dear Island Dolphin Care,
We want to thank you for all that you’ve done for us. When our son was in the presence of the dolphins, he became alive and vibrant. With you, we have seen major improvement. He would go from being tired and wanting to sleep, to becoming wide awake and alert. Thank you for the scholarship that you awarded him.
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all that you have done with him. Our time at IDC also provided family bonding and respite.

Therapeutic improvements included but not limited to increase of energy, increase of physical and cognitive function. Eli taught our son to use a Communication Device and therefore also improve his ability to communicate.
Sincerely,
Family “B”

Jack’s Story…
“It is hard for me to imagine our life without Island Dolphin Care being a part of it. Our third child, Jack, had been born with severe congenital heart defects and suffered a traumatic brain injury during his 3rd open heart surgery at 18 months of age. He had been walking, talking, and doing most things a one and half year old does. Our hopes were high for a total recovery, but Jack is unable to walk, talk, sit up, or do any activities of daily living on his own. He has made some progress as he now holds his head up, rolls over, and tolerates activities and pureed food much better than he did 14 yrs ago.
In 2001, I tried to research for any dolphin programs available to children with special needs because Jack loved the water and dolphins are so intelligent and gentle. After numerous dead ends, I read about Joe’s story and Island Dolphin Care. I was so excited that I called immediately and spoke to Pete about the program and Jack. It turned out our stories were very similar and that began our first step to experiencing Island Dolphin Care.
What does it feel like to have a child who is special? That particular feeling is universal to all parents because every child is uniquely special to his or her parents. What does it feel like to have a child with special needs? It is the same special, but with extras: extra challenges, extra smiles, extra hard work, extra insight, extra opportunities. And that is exactly what Island Dolphin Care is, lots and lots of extra opportunities for parents and families with children who have some kind of special need.
Island Dolphin Care is love, generosity, hard work, safety, normalcy, acceptance, fun, learning, unbiased interactions, healing, and happiness. When you experience Island Dolphin Care, it’s like receiving a gift. This gift starts from the moment you and your family walk/wheel/push to the elevator and see your child’s name on the Welcome to Island Dolphin Care Board . Take the elevator to the main level and the door opens into possibilities…Jack loves looking at all the aquariums and lying on the bean bag next to the giant aquarium so he can actually look up at the fish! I love seeing all the faces that have become family to me and saying“ WE ARE BACK!!!! Each time we return to IDC there are new surprises. New donations, new therapies, new ideas, and most of all new dolphins!!! Baby Zoe, Lotus, Fiji….We have watched them all arrive and grow and become part of the family. As a parent, I know that the staff at Island Dolphin Care will never stop trying to improve their programs, their innovations, and what they have to offer each family that comes through the door. They have marine field trips for school children, they have special swims for Wounded Soldiers, and a travelling educational touch tank!

A few years ago the newest additions were the Tiki Huts where they hold the Wednesday BBQ cookout for all the families swimming that week. Although the food is incredible, including Pete’s famous burgers, the most special part of the day is the interaction among all the children and the families. I look around as I smash mac‐n‐cheese for Jack and there are other moms and dads doing the same for their kids, all of us watching the TV screen flashing pictures of our children swimming with their incredible dolphin friends, working in the classroom, interacting with their families. It makes my heart fill up and it can be hard to eat if you think about it too long. Everywhere you look people are smiling and there is a sense of peace and relaxation. The kids can meet Wono the Sea Lion, families stroll through the sensory garden with orchids and fountains, the Touch Tank is open for touching sea cucumbers, and starfish, and families get to be families, no matter the disability. Different languages are being spoken and we all are just families on vacation.
The actual swimming with the dolphins is the BEST part! Nothing is better than watching Jack and Squirt recognize each other. They have a real relationship that is based on love, fun, and communicating with one another. It is a relationship that is much deeper than what you can see with your eyes. As a mom on the dock, I can actually feel it when I see Squirt steal kisses from Jack or do something that is extra gentle and hard for her to do. Island Dolphin Care was never a place where I expected Jack to start walking or talking. All we ever hoped for was for Jack to have fun. It wasn’t always easy. I waited everyday to see if Jack’s sensitivity to the coolness of the water, his allergies, his lack of sleep, his mood in general would affect his swim with Squirt every morning. However, each time we come back, Jack has more fun than the last time. His progress in and out of the water has improved more than I could imagine. For my child, that means holding his head up higher, making great eye contact with Squirt and Lotus, and making choices for behaviors he likes to do with Squirt. The therapists in the water are incredible with the kids. They work tremendously hard to make sure the child and the entire family have a great experience that is unique to their special circumstances.
The week always ends too soon. There are so many opportunities to take advantage of; painting, fishing in the canal, therapies, bbq, shopping in the gift shop, exploring Key Largo, besides the week of swimming and classroom activities. I like just sitting on the new benches and watching the dolphins swim. It’s very peaceful. The final morning is a culmination of the week as all the children and families meet at 8am for the final swim. One parent and the child get to swim in a group with the dolphins in their natural setting. This is so amazing to do with your child and so amazing to watch! Instead of the dolphins doing behaviors you ask of them, you swim with them in their environment on their terms! They love it when everyone sings and swims fast. It’s a way to say thank you to them for the whole week.
To experience Island Dolphin Care is so special and sometimes, so emotional ,that tears are a common denominator….at least they are in my family. (Tears of joy of course!) I don’t think a single family member or friend that I have brought with Jack and myself to IDC has not been deeply moved by the entire experience. I wish every family with a special needs child could come to Island Dolphin Care and feel the magic.
Sandy, Jack’s mom

“….It was completely geared towards my child. I even forgot to bring my sons PECS and visuals and the staff had a visual schedule and pictures to help with his program and help with his language. It was amazing.”

“I was afraid first that there was going to be sessions in a classroom. I thought maybe my son would be the only one not talking or drawing himself etc. I was happy to find that it was well adapted to his ability and to his mood.”

“Exceeded my expectations. If anything, staff helped me see that my son was on an even higher level than I thought.”

“For me, this was an opportunity to stop and take a look at my family. I’ve been caught up in a lot of things since our child was diagnosed with a brain tumor and this week allowed us to have some special time together. One revelation for me was how we (everyone in our family) is hurting because of our child’s illness. This time away from our routine provided us all with real break.”

“The experience makes him happy, builds confidence, fosters independence, positive emotional impact, and motivates use of language.”

“Island Dolphin Care is a true blessing for parents with special needs children. IDC gives my son something to look forward to in the summer, since he is unable to play certain summer sports. My son is already planning his next trip there. He tells everyone how he loves to swim with the dolphins, they are his friends.”

A child wrote: “You mean so much to me because since I’m weak I never thought I would be able to swim with dolphins. I really appreciate that you let my dream come true, now I’m not just Holli; I’m even more a dolphin lover”

“Intervention was available to the whole family. For my child, it gave him independence, confidence, happiness and allowed him to do things he may not get to do otherwise. My child had a lot of opportunities that keep things exciting. The interaction with the dolphins, the use of assisted technology and all the other crazy things he gets to do is therapeutic. The overall experience for my child in itself was unbelievable. For my child’s provider, there was intervention, a sense of fulfillment; learning new things to do with my child, seeing that my child can do other things, make the provider’s mind think of new things, learned how to help my child, and feelings of happiness for my child was in itself wonderful. It was a positive intervention to me as a parent. A sense of calm, perspective, a sense of pride, a sense of believing again, a sense of holding on when you are about to give up, being able to see people believe in your child, being able to learn new things, seeing your child thrive, seeing your child do crazy, fun things, seeing you child happy, relaxation, knowing your family is accepted, watching the program grow brings hope, reminding me of the importance of my role to help my child be who he is, remembering again finally, that I am really doing a good job with your child. I would say that IDC provides therapeutic intervention across the board. Great Job.”

“Well, you did it again! You took a years worth of tears: painful medical testing, hours upon hours of doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, and therapy appointments…and with the wave of a magic moment made it all disappear…into wonderful memories filled with radiant smiles, dolphin dances, and dolphin song”. We will always remember the experience that we lived while at Island Dolphin Care. Our son is very happy and social; during that marvelous week he was extraordinarily happy and communicative”

“We cannot begin to express our amazement at the changes we and others have seen in her in the past few days. She glows when she tells people about the experience”.

“Our family is always pleased and delighted with the care and service we receive at IDC….it is a place where we find new miracles of our children and grasp the opportunity to take all we have learned home with us and continue until next year when we can once again swim with the dolphins!!”

“My daughter came away grown up from the experience. The weeks following she seemed to bloom in front of us. It seemed like the therapy gave her a new sense of who she is. It has been amazing.“

“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for following your dream… You are truly wonderful people who will always have a very special place in our hearts.”

“This program offered hope for my family. These people opened their arms and welcomed us into a safe haven to just be carefree and happy. The dolphins honored us with their grace and their love. You can not ask for anything better than this. My children cried when we left and I felt at peace”

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