Monday, August 12, 2013

Fun, Easy, Healthy Recipes!

Simple Guacamole
2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

1. Using a fork, mash the avocados in a small bowl.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.
3. Cover and chill.
Serves four

Black Bean Hummus
1 can garbanzo beans/chickpeas
6 tbsp reserve liquid
1 can black beans, drained (organic if possible)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil

Optional Flavoring:
Roaster Red Pepper

1. In a food processor, blend all ingredients together until smooth and creamy.
2. Serve immediately with tortilla, tortilla chips, or veggies.

Frozen Nutty Banana Nibblers
5 medium ripe bananas
1 tbs. all natural creamy peanut butter
2 oz. non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt (low sugar)

1. Peel 1 banana and mash it with yougurt and peanut butter. Set it aside.
2. Peel another four bananas and slice into 1/2 in. thick slices.  Smear mixture on half of the banana slices and top with other halves. Place on a wooden cutting board or plate and freeze for at least two hours.

Ranch Dip/ Dressing
1 1/2 cup cashews or macademia nuts
1/2 cup water
3 tsp fresh lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic
1-2 tsp celtic sea salt
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp dried basil (or 2 fresh leaves)
1 stalk celery

Mix all ingredients until smooth and creamy.

Tahini Salad Dressing
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup flax or extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup tahini
1 tbsp finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1/4 cup distilled water
celtic sea salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender.

Orange-Berry Smoothie
2 naval oranges (peel and pith removed, cut into chunks)
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup frozen raspberries

Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth

Monday, July 29, 2013

Connecting With the World

When Laura Gaddy-Dull’s son, Ethan, was first diagnosed with autism, the advice she kept hearing over and over from professionals was to “put him in school.” So, Gaddy-Dull enrolled her son in a special needs preschool program but she was not satisfied with her son’s progress.
            “The problem was,” according to Gaddy-Dull, “that the teacher had so many students. She just couldn’t devote the one on one time that would have helped Ethan thrive socially, which is where he struggled the most.”
            Ethan’s impairment with social skills is not uncommon. According to Cliff Cowan, a behavioral therapist at the St. Gerard House, “One of the major diagnostic criteria for autism is an impairment in social interation.” While social problems are common amongst children with autism, typically developing children can also struggle with social skills. According to Candy Lawson, PhD, “For some children, social skills can be the hardest subject to pass in school. Social skills play a very important role in a child's emotional health and well-being. Without friendships, school can be a very unhappy, lonely place that a child might want to avoid.”
            Despite the well-known importance of social skills, it can be difficult to incorporate direct social instruction in the already busy day of a public school classroom, as noted by Gaddy-Dull. Recognizing the importance of learning social skills for her son, Gaddy-Dull searched for resources and found the St. Gerard House’s Connect Program. According to Cowan, the Connect program uses the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis and a social thinking curriculum to target fundamentals of social skills such as identifying expected and unexpected behaviors, behavioral triggers, small versus big problems and differing perspectives.
            Using small group instruction, facilitated play and highly trained therapists, the Connect Program strives to teach children with or without a developmental disability, vital social skills while having fun. There can be physical play, arts and crafts, story time and games incorporated into a session. By combining research-based strategies for teaching social skills and play, Connect endeavors to prepare its students to function in society while having a fun.
            According to Gaddy-Dull, her son has received the social skills instruction that he needs to thrive in public school from Connect. “Ethan needs support socially and Connect has given him the boost and independence he needs. He’s learning how to take turns, start conversations. He even made a good friend in Connect that he has had play dates with outside of the program”
            She is not the only satisfied client. “I really like it! I miss it when I’m not taking the classes,” said Ethan. “The stories and the puppets are my favorite part.”
            Alicia Ballard-Westbrook

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

NC Autism Insurance Reform Bill

We are really excited that the North Carolina House has passed HB 498, which would require insurance to pay for autism services. Click here to read more about the bill and its passing. It moves on soon to the NC Senate, and we're hoping to get overwhelming passage there too!
Please consider writing to your NC representatives thanking them for their support, and to your NC senator to ask for their support of this bill. The following is a letter Alicia (Grotto parent) wrote to Representative Chuck McGrady, who was instrumental in helping this bill go through. Below, you can also find links to take action.
Dear Representative McGrady,
                As a mother of a child affected by autism and one of your Henderson County constituents, I want to take the time to personally thank you for sponsoring the autism insurance reform bill that was recently passed.  Currently, my son, Danny, receives behavioral therapy through the St. Gerard House and my family pays for the services out of pocket. While the St. Gerard House offers high quality therapy at a deeply discounted cost, it is still a financial burden and without the help of our extended family, I don’t know if Danny would be able to receive this therapy.
                The applied behavioral analysis therapy that my son has received has changed our lives. Perhaps you met my son, a sweet brown-eyed six year old, when you recently toured the St. Gerard House. If you did meet him, you probably saw a happy, energetic little boy who is still struggling with communication and social skills. While Danny is still clearly affected by autism, the son I have now is vastly different from the son I had before he began receiving ABA therapy. When Danny started at the St. Gerard House, he had no speech, he was not potty trained and he had frequent tantrums that would sometimes last for hours. He could be aggressive and he generally seemed miserable. My biggest fear before ABA was that there would come a time where I would not be able to handle Danny and I would have to institutionalize my son. There were days where I did not want to get out of bed. There were days that I was panicked by the thought of my son growing older and bigger.
                Today, these fears are gone. With the help of ABA, Danny is now generally a happy child. He is slowly beginning to acquire more and more words. The sound of his sweet little voice saying “Mama” is something I never believed I would hear and every time he speaks, I am reminded of the miracle of ABA therapy. Every little bit of improvement gives me strength to continue the fight for my son and while it is far from over, I feel like ABA and the St. Gerard House has given my son a chance. A chance to live a life not too different from the one I imagined 6 and a half years ago when my newborn son was placed in my arms for the first time. ABA and the St. Gerard House has changed Danny’s story from one of tragedy and disappointment to one of triumph and hope. If this bill is made into law, it will help my family continue to provide my son with the best therapy for autism and open the doors for other families to receive this life changing therapy.
                As a mother, as a voter, as your constituent, I deeply thank you for fighting for Danny and the other children like him. With ongoing therapy, perhaps my son will one day have the ability to thank you himself.
              With Deepest Regards
            Alicia Ballard Westbrook

It’s super easy to write to your representatives and senator!
Or, visit and click on State Initiatives, NC, then the red TAKE ACTION box.
2. You’ll have to enter your contact information, which will populate the correct representatives and senators for your district.
3. On the next page, will be fields with a generic email to each of the representatives and senators for you to review and edit. You can send them as-is, or you can add, change, or delete from that email (you can see in Amanda’s letter below – she chose to keep the pre-populated information, but add a paragraph of her own).
4. Click submit – that’s it!
Thank you for your help!

Monday, May 6, 2013

First Words of Hope Luncheon 2013

The following is Mike Farmer's "Ask" speech from the 2013 luncheon. 

My name is Mike Farmer.  I have been associated with St. Gerard House for two and a half years now and have been a member of the board for the past two years.  I also act as the Treasurer for this organization.

I first came in contact with St. Gerard House after Caroline Long gave a presentation about this new organization at mass one Sunday.  I simply wanted to tell her that Ernie Els, the professional golfer, had a Foundation for autism and that it might be a good place to request a grant.   Now, two and half years later I am blessed to be fully engaged in this exceptional charity.

For a moment, consider that you are in your 30’s, married a few years with perhaps a growing family.  You might have one or two children already.  And then one fateful day your family doctor gives you the diagnosis that your youngest child is on the autism spectrum.  Immediately you have a big question mark on your face and you wonder “what do I do now?” and “where do I go to get answers”.  In Western North Carolina, St. Gerard House is one of the primary resources for you to get those answers.  So you come and you like what you see and hear. 

There is hope after all.  You find that you are talking to people who clearly understand your concerns and have a plan to address them.  But you had no idea it was so expensive.  You learn that the Grotto School uses Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA, which is an evidence based therapy.  ABA, however, requires a one to one relationship between the teacher and the child to be most effective.  You like the idea but where will you get the money to pay for the school tuition?  How will you be able to afford it?  And then you realize, you will do anything possible to give your child every chance to live a normal life.

We in Henderson County are blessed with so many fine charitable organizations---all doing great work.  We are also blessed with a caring community who gives to support these fine organizations.  It sometimes makes it very difficult to decide where to put your dollars and where they will do the most good.  You have many options to do great work.

Families of children with autism do not have that many options.  Treatment is expensive and there are no plans currently in the State of North Carolina that provide for coverage under private or government insurance for evidence based therapy.  The few plans that do exist only cover autism treatment that do not have the proven results that we have seen achieved with ABA.  I believe we are one of the few charities that strictly monitors our actual results in such a way that we can actually show a child’s response to treatment and progress over a period of time.

This is why the St. Gerard House Board is committed to providing the best resources and services, and at the same time charging a nominal fee so that young families can get the much needed help for their child.

Our initial goals were to first raise community awareness about autism; and secondly, to find financial support for autism so that these families and their children would have a pathway to mainstreaming into society.  We believe we have accomplished the first goal of raising community awareness.  The second goal continues to be elusive.

Currently it costs about $40,000 to $45,000 a year for one child to receive the daily Applied Behavior Analysis therapy that is practiced at St Gerard House.  Our base tuition is $30,000 but even that is an amount few young families can afford.  To cover any deficit and to provide administrative and other services we have fund raisers like this one at least three times each year.  We have even made arrangements for some families to come on a part-time basis so their child and the family can receive some measure of help.

It is only through the generosity of our community that St. Gerard House is able to continue to operate.  If you decide to be part of that generous community here is what you will get:

The most dedicated teachers that I have ever known.  They continue to amaze me with their patience and love of these children.  And daily they work miracles.

A support staff, including a non-paid Executive Director, who works tirelessly to make the mission of St. Gerard House a reality.

You may also have the joy of seeing the smiles and tears of the parents of these children as they see the fog of autism give way to the uniqueness of their child.

Lastly, with your help, a non-verbal child, who enters the Grotto school, will someday look up and say to his parents for the first time “I love you mom and dad”.

There is a song we occasionally sing at our church.  It always tugs at my heart and soul when I hear it and I wonder if I am doing enough to help others.  The song starts with God asking how he will use his almighty powers to heal the lives of his people.  The words go like this:

                                    I, who made the stars of night,
                                    I will make their darkness bright.
                                    Who will bear my light to them?
                                    Whom shall I send?

And we respond:

                                    Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
                                    I have heard you calling in the night.
                                    I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
                                    I will hold your people in my heart.

Our patron, Saint Gerard, heard this call and dedicated his life to bearing God’s light to people in need.  Born in the 18th Century he spent his life helping the needy and the poor, being poor himself and having an understanding of the sorrows of the needy.

He often gave away his earnings and his own food to the poor and those that came to him never left empty-handed. Sometimes, how the food or money came to be there was known only to God and to St. Gerard.

St. Gerard House has been touched many times by our patron saint.  When we have looked ahead and wondered how we will fund the future, we have asked for his help. 

As a logical finance guy, I can’t explain how it happens, but St. Gerard has delivered in our times of need.

Finally, the poet Kahlil Gibran, who authored the Prophet, wrote a wonderful poem titled “Your children are not your children”.  In it he writes:

        “Your children are not your children.
        They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
        They come through you, but not from you.
        You may give them your love, but not your thoughts.
        For they have their own thoughts.
        Their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit.
        You are the bows from which your children, as the arrows are sent forth.
        Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness”.

This beautiful poem has always touched me as a parent.  When I first read it, I could not quite see how it applied.  But through the years of raising our two children it became clearer.

I might disagree with the poet on one account.  I believe that children with autism belong to all of us.  We all are responsible to give them the opportunity of life that we have enjoyed.  We are the archers and with your gift today you will bend the bow in gladness so that these children will reach their greatest potential.

This summer I intend to ask St. Gerard to accept a rather unusual prayer from me.  I’m riding my bike 4,285 miles across the US to raise awareness for autism and money for St. Gerard House and two other charities.  Every pedal stroke will be a prayer request to St. Gerard that the work of his House and the Grotto School will continue to be successful. 

Located at your table is a donor sheet that your table captain will now pass out.  If you wish to donate financially or to volunteer to help us at St. Gerard House, please fill out this form and return it to your table captain.  If you have questions about the form, consult your table captain.

And speaking of St. Gerard, you will find a blessed medal of our patron at your table.  It is yours as our gift for your concern and generosity.

If your heart has been touched by what you have heard today, and if you share that sense of responsibility for a child with autism, please answer that call with “Here I am, Lord”.

Thank you for your consideration and your attention.  God bless our children.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Get Pesticides out of Your Kids' Classrooms: It's easier than you think!

Get Pesticides out of Your Kids’ Classrooms: It’s easier than you think!
By Kate Watkins, Outreach Intern with Toxic Free NC
            Leaving children in school, daycare, or another person’s home can be nerve wracking for any parent.  It’s impossible to have complete control over everything in our children’s daily environment, but there are plenty of important things we can control.  Luckily, exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides is one of them!  By requesting the use of safer pest control in child care facilities, we can spend less time worrying and more time focusing on spelling tests, classroom parties, and scraped knees!
             If you haven’t heard much about Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, do not be discouraged!  IPM is a toxic-free approach to pest control that dramatically reduces chemical pollution by emphasizing prevention.  IPM depends on smarter cleaning, maintenance, and monitoring of pest prone areas in schools, daycares, and also in the home.  Toxic Free NC, NC State University, and even the US Environmental Protection Agency encourage schools and child care centers to use IPM.  Some great news is that progress has been made!  North Carolina’s “School Children’s Health Act” required public schools to adopt IPM programs by October 2011.  However, we still have a ways to go in order for private schools and child care centers to catch on to these healthy habits.
             IPM tactics cost less than many conventional pest programs, and are often more effective than spraying yucky pesticides.  To utilize IPM, teachers, students, school staff, and administrators need to be educated on how they can participate.  Monitoring of the grounds must be done regularly to catch potential pest problems before they begin.  Preventive actions must be taken, including smarter cleaning, proper waste disposal, structural maintenance, and good soil health.  These steps can be as simple as installing weather stripping and door sweeps to prevent pests from entering your child care center and home; putting cereal and sugar in airtight, plastic containers; repairing leaky pipes; and making sure all garbage cans lock securely.
If pest problems do break out despite these measures, the least-toxic and lowest-risk pesticides should be used to eliminate the problem, such as baits and traps.  In these cases, parents must be notified if pesticides are used.  Records of pest activity and management must be kept so that problem areas can be monitored.  Using these tactics can also help spread awareness about toxic pesticides among the staff, and may greatly reduce their use.
            To help you get started with IPM, Toxic Free NC offers free training to child care centers.  Participants will also receive four NC Division of Child Development and Early Education contact hours...for free!  If you are interested in hosting an IPM training for your staff, please contact Lynne Walter at Toxic Free NC at (919) 833-1123 or
Now, let’s jump on the natural bandwagon and discover the wonders of toxic free living through Integrated Pest Management!

Toxic Free NC:
The School Children’s Health Act: A Guide for Parents from Toxic Free NC:

Kate Watkins is a student, nanny, dancer, and she is also a volunteer for Toxic Free NC.  She hopes to join the Peace Corps or another international NGO, and she is extremely passionate about environmental issues and their impact on human rights.

Toxic Free NC is a non-profit organization in Raleigh fighting pesticide pollution by advocating for common-sense alternatives that protect our health and environment. Toxic Free NC works extensively with child care providers and parents to reduce toxic pollution in children’s environments. You can find out more about their work at, or by calling (919) 833-1123.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Decking the Halls, the Toxic-Free Way!

By Kate Watkins, Outreach Intern with Toxic Free NC

(some information adapted with permission from Dr. Mike Waldvogel and Patty Alder, NCSU Department of Entomology)

            With the winter holidays just ahead, many people have begun to the deck the halls, hang the mistletoe, and decorate their homes.  With all of the excitement the holidays bring, we sometimes forget the environmental impact that this season can have, not to mention the impact on our health.  This year, while retrieving the decorations from the dusty attic and strapping the tree to the roof of the car, keep the following tips in mind.
            Christmas trees, wreaths, and garlands are often sprayed with pesticides that can be dangerous to us and to our families.  These toxins affect the health of farm workers and pollute the environment.  In order to protect ourselves from these harsh chemicals, we should opt for organic or low-spray greenery whenever possible.  By buying from farms that use sustainable and safe methods, we show support for workers and businesses that respect the environment and their customers!  For a list of toxic-free and low-spray tree and wreath distributors in North Carolina, visit the Toxic Free website at
            Concerned that an organic purchase means bringing critters into your house?  Don’t be!  They are many non-toxic ways to handle any little critters that may try to hitch a ride.  One such potential hitchhiker is the Cinera Aphid (common on conifers), which has been known to occasionally tag along on greenery.  Some people mistake Cinera Aphids for ticks; however, they are not ticks and there are many toxic-free methods for preventing them from getting into your home.  The simplest way to make sure they don’t come in with the tree is to vigorously tap the base of the tree on your sidewalk or driveway several times before bringing the tree inside.  If you want to be extra-thorough, blasting the tree with a stream of water and leaving it outside for a few hours to dry is also an effective pre-decoration method and will remove other undesirable hitchhikers like pollen, dust, and loose needles.
While some people may want to use aerosol insecticides, these can be as toxic as agricultural pesticides and are also a fire hazard when old-style incandescent lights are used on treated greenery—so don’t spray anything on your tree, especially not while it is decorated and the lights are plugged in!  Vacuum cleaners with crevice tools are another efficient and non-toxic way to remove aphids.  Remember that even boxed, artificial Christmas trees can be infested with bugs like spiders and dust mites, so you may as well go real and organic!  Real trees sometimes mean real bugs, but this is a problem that is easily solved without using harmful and toxic pesticides.
            By choosing organic or low-spray decor, we are voting in support of healthy families and sustainable farming.  Now, go stand under your organic mistletoe, and wait for your kiss from the environment!

Toxic Free NC Organic Christmas Trees and Wreaths: 2012 Buying Guide

Cinera Aphid Prevention information provided from an article by Dr. Mike Waldvogel and Patty Alder- NC State Department of Entomology:
Ways to recycle and reuse your holiday greenery:

Kate Watkins is a student, nanny, dancer, and she is also a volunteer for Toxic Free NC.  She hopes to join the Peace Corps or another international NGO, and she is extremely passionate about environmental issues and their impact on human rights.

Toxic Free NC is a non-profit organization in Raleigh fighting pesticide pollution by advocating for common-sense alternatives that protect our health and environment. Toxic Free NC works extensively with child care providers and parents to reduce toxic pollution in children’s environments. You can find out more about their work at, or by calling (919) 833-1123.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cleaning Green & Kid Safe

Cleaning Green & Kid-Safe
By Billie Karel

Like it or not, cleaning is a part of life…especially life with kids! Many products are available on store shelves to help you in the battle against dust, dirt, mold & mildew, and soap scum. But, how do you know if that “clean smell” is really clean, or if it’s the smell of toxic chemicals?

Sadly, many cleaning products are full of chemicals that can be hazardous to our health. The fumes from cleaners containing bleach or “fragrance” chemicals are likely to be:
-       Irritants that can raise the risk of getting asthma, or cause asthma attacks in those who have it.
-       Carcinogens that can raise the risk for cancer.
-       Hormone mimicking chemicals that are associated with birth defects.

There’s nothing clean and healthy about hazardous chemicals! Baking soda, lemon juice, white vinegar, and even club soda can all be used as cheap, non-toxic alternatives to harsh cleaning chemicals. Here are some of Toxic Free NC’s favorite green cleaning recipes to help you get started. All of these products are safe for use around kids. They’re even safe for older kids to mix and use themselves, so long as they have adult supervision!

Make-it-yourself All-Purpose Cleaner
2 cups hot water
2 tsp borax* powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp liquid soap (dish soap works great!)
Directions: Mix all ingredients thoroughly, then put in a spray bottle. Label the bottle so you know what’s in it. Great for table and counter tops, and spot cleaning wherever you need it. This cleaner gets rave reviews from child care providers because it takes marker ink off tabletops!

Mold & Mildew Killer
½ cup white vinegar
½ cup borax* powder
2 cups warm water
Directions: Mix the ingredients up, then pour or spray them onto the moldy area. Leave for about 10 minutes, then scrub! If mold is still visible, you may need to repeat the application. This mixture loses its cleaning power quickly, so don’t save the leftovers, just pour them down the drain.

Slow Drain Cleaner
Baking soda – about 1/3 cup
White vinegar – about 1/3 cup
Hot water
Directions: Sprinkle baking soda down the slow drain. Then, drizzle in white vinegar. The mixture will bubble up, releasing carbon dioxide gas. Leave it alone for a few minutes until the bubbling stops. Then, pour very hot water down the drain to rinse. Using this process every so often will help prevent slow or clogged drains!

* Borax powder is a low-toxicity powder typically sold in the laundry aisle at the grocery store. The biggest advantage to borax for cleaning is that it does not create any fumes – it is what is called “non-volatile.” However it is mildly toxic, so store and handle it with care, and don’t let children or pets put it in their mouths.

For more green cleaning tips, visit or

Billie Karel is program director at Toxic Free NC. In her free time, she gardens, cooks, and cleans up after her dog using only kid-safe (and dog-safe) green cleaners!

Toxic Free NC is a non-profit organization in Raleigh fighting pesticide pollution by advocating for common-sense alternatives that protect our health and environment. Toxic Free NC works extensively with child care providers and parents to reduce toxic pollution in children’s environments. You can find out more about their work at, or by calling 919-833-1123.