Hello everyone! I’m Kaitlin, the Founder and Executive Director of Orchid House, and I want to share a bit about how this all began.
I’ve been a bachelor’s-prepared nurse for about nine years and a pediatric nurse for nearly seven of those. I have been working on my graduate degree for nearly as long and expect to graduate with my Master’s in Nurse Administration this December, 2017! Outside of my professional role, I am a mom of two amazing boys, wife to a supportive husband, and human companion to three crazy dogs.
I love to support local business including coffee, books, restaurants, shopping and community events. My goal is to wake up each day with gratitude for another opportunity to make the world a better place. On most days I make a valid attempt to balance my wandering thoughts with mindfulness meditation which keeps me grounded, focused on the present moment, and aware of what each moment requires of me. It is a top priority to incorporate the concepts of mindfulness into the Orchid House program through lessons and activities that teach compassion for all living things and acceptance of our similarities and differences.
The Past: When I started working for a medical child-care center at the start of my pediatric career I fell in love with a two-year-old boy that I have never forgotten. A.J. didn’t have a diagnosis of Autism yet but showed many signs. He became easily overstimulated in his classroom, leading to meltdowns and frequent tantrums. He had multiple developmental delays including speech and social/emotional deficits. The hardest parts of his day were mealtimes where he refused to eat anything and began screaming as soon as trays were passed out in anxious anticipation of someone trying to sneak bites into his mouth. Eating literally terrified A.J. and this was not well-understood by staff. I asked my director if I could work with A.J. one-on-one for a bit in a quiet room during mealtimes and he agreed to give it a try. I had no idea what I was doing but knew he may benefit from a reduction in noise at least. I consulted my mother, a speech language pathologist and expert in complex feeding therapy for young children. She introduced me to an evidenced-based approach to ease children into accepting new foods. I, like many others, believed that if children were hungry enough, they would eat. For many children, this is simply untrue. I worked with A.J. for months on his feeding and, slowly, he began eating pureed, and then solid foods. He was able to sit in the cafeteria with other children to eat meals without anxiety. Not only did this improve his daily quality of life but it created a bond between us that I still cherish. With tantrums aside, A.J. had an amazing personality, loved to smile and dance. A.J. moved out of state with his family shortly after but I will never forget how proud I was of his accomplishments and what a difference this extra time and attention made for him.
As the organization experienced rapid growth, creating a place for hundreds of medically complex children to go each day, many needs were met for children and their families. I was honored to be a part of it. However, the ability to spend one-on-one time with children like A.J. with diagnoses like ASD and other behavior/emotional disorders was greatly reduced. I’ve met countless children who are unable to thrive in a traditional classroom setup. I cannot recall the number of times I’ve had to tell a parent or guardian “I’m sorry, this is not the right setting for your child’s needs.” This is almost always followed by the parent’s defeated response of, “then where is the right place for my child?” for which I had only a few resources to give them, some of which were out of reach due to cost or location. Each loss was devastating. Today children with these diagnoses are often unable to be admitted or are discharged from medical child-care and daycare programs due to their very specific behavior needs. In underserved areas especially, these families are at a complete loss for where to go when their child begins showing early signs and symptoms. How can parents work or further their education without appropriate child-care?
I ran into A.J.’s mom years later during her visit back to town and she informed me that he was eating well, had received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and was getting extra support therapies and services. I often wonder if his success could have been amplified had he received these supports at age two. Research says “yes.”
Taking the First Steps: Feeling confident that children with complex medical needs had a place to go, I was compelled to create a place for young children like A.J. in underserved areas. I was determined to be the one to finally say, “You’ve come to the right place, we have the resources for your child!” I began meeting with professionals in the ASD community, educators, lobbyists, financial and legal advisors, non-profit organizations, daycare owners, and passionate advocates for at-risk youth, to name a few. I set out to explore options for an all-day therapeutic program model for preschool-age children with overlapping health and behavior/emotional disorders. To say the least I’ve been overwhelmed with the supportive response.
Through my years in pediatrics I gained experience in middle and upper management, taking an active role in the planning and opening of three medical child-care centers across Kentucky. My time in upper management was filled with oversight of several facilities, hundreds of pediatric patients, review of policies and procedures, state regulations and daily operations required to run a pediatric extended care center. I am grateful for this time because I believe it has prepared me to take on this exciting venture.
Putting It All Together: When developing the program model, I knew I wanted to really incorporate a holistic approach, mainly because children with specific needs require a 360-degree view. “Holistic” tends to have multiple interpretations but, for me as a mom and nurse, I thought about what kind of program I would expect for my own children had they been faced with similar challenges. What would be important to me and what would it take for me to feel comfortable entrusting the care of my child to someone else while I go to work each day? And then, how can I make this type of program affordable with equitable access to underprivileged families?
After nearly a year of researching every avenue, building the model, tearing it back down and rebuilding several times, tweaking and re-tweaking, and gaining some team members along the way, I believe we have found a viable and sustainable model. Nurses are fabulous but we can’t do it alone. Collaboration with various professionals in an interdisciplinary and evidence-based approach will give families the best chance for success. Along with nursing care and case management, our program includes a multi-therapy model with behavior supports at it’s core. We knew the program needed to mimic the benefits of standard childcare, with all-day hours to allow parents and guardians to work, volunteer, or further their vocational and educational studies. Dietary support without packaged and processed foods is just as important to growing minds and bodies as any other component. Hands-on technicians trained to work with behavior/emotional needs is required to foster success. Individualized curriculum led by a qualified lead teacher in both adapted and therapeutic traditional classrooms with low ratios seemed like a good place to start. To top it all off, we did not forget one of the most important elements: family support and education. We view each parent/guardian as a co-therapist in the development and implementation of a comprehensive care plan. By strengthening the family dynamic, we help build a powerful community.
It takes a village and this is certainly a process to get where we’re going. Just months ago the road seemed incredibly long but a phrase from my high school spanish teacher kept coming to mind:
“Poco a poco, se va lejos (Little by little, one goes far)”
What’s In a Name? After reading Nonprofits for Dummies, it was suggested that a non-profit organization’s name should indicate the services it provides. However, those who know me are aware that I have difficulty conforming to society’s expectations at times. Although a bit abstract, the orchid represents a special-needs child. Given the right conditions, this rare flower is able to grow to phenomenal beauty. There is much that can be found online about the orchid child versus the dandelion child, like this link from a passionate parent: https://www.parent.com/raising-orchid-child-dandelion-world/
We at Orchid House now have a well-rounded team and advisors with expertise in many areas to get this program off the ground. We have a lot of work to do and some challenges ahead but are well on our way to opening doors soon! Feel free to check out the pages of our website for more information on our team, partners, and sponsors that have made the Orchid House vision possible thus far. Feel free to contact us for more information or to place your preschool-age (18 months to 5 years) child(ren) on our preliminary waitlist (link coming soon to our online form).
I’d like to leave off with a few words of inspiration:
“The Law of Synergy states that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words when you combine your knowledge, skills, and efforts with other likeminded individuals with a single purpose in mind, you will be far more effective than if you were to go at it alone.”
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Thank you and may your day be brilliant!
Kaitlin Blessitt, BSN, RN
Founder & Executive Director