Hi, Bright Start Families! I hope you’re having a fun summer so far. I am so happy to introduce you to a very special group of women here at Bright Start. They’re our resident Super Heroes—our awesome Autism Team! They are among the most caring and hardest-working people with whom I’ve ever worked. They truly go above & beyond every single day and love every second of it. Their love for the job and for their “families” is immediately evident every time I speak with them. They have a passion for our children with Autism and want to help their families in any way that they can. Every EI is faced with daily emotions, challenges, paperwork, meetings, and deadlines. It’s even more intense for the Autism Team, but you’d never know it because those things are greatly outweighed by their mission and desire to help. They have a passion and loyalty that is so admirable. Let’s meet them:
This is Micaela De La Cruz.
Micaela started at Bright Start in July 2015 and has been an excellent addition to our staff. She is full of life, seems to have endless energy, and is never without a smile. It’s impossible to not smile around her, especially when she tells stories about her pet hedgehog (yep, I said hedgehog) Kalu. Micaela graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 2014 with a degree in Psychology. When I asked her why she started working with children with Autism, Micaela said, “During my junior year at Miami Ohio, my professor had us study Temple Grandin. I fell in love with her story & strength, sparking a need to research this more. I then took another course related to Autism and became friends with a peer who has a son with Autism. I began asking my professor about careers and/or programs where I can help children on the spectrum learn and feel good about themselves. I chose to work with children because I wanted to help them understand, at a young age, how awesome and important they are. She led me to ABA therapy and I have been working with children with Autism ever since. Micaela said that she loves being a part of the Bright Start Autism Team because “I love that there is such a broad spectrum and every child has their own special gift to share with the world. I love learning something new from each session and I love the strength these families have! There is something so rewarding about a family welcoming you into their lives and watching their child blossom! I honestly could not imagine myself in a different field. I laugh and feel proud after every session!” When I asked Micaela about her hobbies and how she spends her free time, I learned a lot about her: she’s a movie buff and can’t pick a favorite, but her favorite candy is Hot Tamales. She also loves pizza. Micaela can often be found hiking, trail running, or kayaking when she’s not snuggling with that hedgehog J. We are so happy to have you at Bright Start, Micaela. You definitely bring a lot of joy to your coworkers and to the families that you serve.
And this is Michelle Stewart.
Michelle, too, has been an awesome addition to the Autism Team. She is one of the most compassionate and patient EIs that I’ve ever known. Her families love her and so do her coworkers. Michelle is always willing to help guide other EIs when we have questions about Autism and/or the related paperwork. She started at Bright Start in March 2015. She graduated with a BA in Psychology from Limestone College in 2014. When asked about why she chose the Autism field, Michelle said, “Learning and studying so much about it in college, I just knew I had a true passion for it. I started out doing ABA therapy and wanted to see how I could continue to grow and make a difference. She loves her job “because of the difference the children make in my life. Every day my kids teach me something new & extraordinary and I love everything about it”. Michelle says that her favorite hobby is “being a mom. It’s truly one of the best things ever. My boys are my everything”. In her spare time, Michelle may be found watching reality TV, as she’s a self-professed reality TV junkie, or eating her favorite cuisine: Mexican food. We are so fortunate to have Michelle with us! You are a vital team player and you’re making an incredible difference in the lives of so many!
Now it’s time to meet Brittany Robinson.
Brittany joined us in December 2014 after graduating from Winthrop University. Her degree is Family & Consumer Science with specialization in Early Childhood Studies. Brittany is the type of person that seems to always be happy. She is very friendly and a genuinely kind person. She is well-loved by all of her families and her coworkers feel the same. She is quick to offer help and her passion for her job is easy to see. When I asked Brittany how she became interested in the Autism field, I learned that she’s known her whole life that she wanted to work with children with special needs. Her cousin has Autism, so Brittany started doing some research. In her last two years at Winthrop, she had the opportunity to intern at a small ABA clinic near campus and says, “I’ve been in love ever since”. She told me that she loves this job because “every child is different. Seeing that light bulb go off during a visit is such a joy. To know that I can make a difference in family’s life is so rewarding”. Brittany, in her downtime, may be found watching her favorite show—Law & Order: SVU. Brittany, we are so honored to work with you. Your energy, knowledge, and kindness make Bright Start a better place every day.
And here is Crystal Tuttle.
Crystal joined the Bright Start Upstate office in July of 2013. She graduated from Anderson University with degrees in Early Childhood/Elementary Education & Special Education. Crystal’s experience with Autism began in high school when she served in Teacher Cadets. Then, in college, she provided ABA to a family and realized her passion. Since then, she has worked with individuals with Autism in various settings. Crystal absolutely loves being an Autism EI and it shows! As I was gathering some information about Crystal, Beth Deason and Teri Todd were quick to tell me about her drive, her dedication, and about how her families love her. Crystal says that this position has taught her “so much about not only Autism, but how to better serve families. I love working on the Autism Team because I not only get to meet some amazing kiddos, but I get to help bring hope & light to families when they are facing a very unknown future and a diagnosis they were not exactly prepared for”. In her free time, Crystal may be found out for a run, watching Golden Girls, or enjoying green Jolly Ranchers. Her favorite role and pastime, though, is being a foster Mommy to her precious children. Thank you for being you, Crystal! You certainly are bringing “hope & light” to so many!
And now I present to you KelLeigh Dantzler.
KelLeigh is Bright Start’s longest serving EI. Our owners Beth & Teri hired her as the very first Autism EI way back in 2000. She is a graduate of Columbia College (go Fighting Koalas!) and has a Master of Rehabilitation degree from USC School of Medicine. While in college, she provided Lovaas-based ABA to a 5 year old little girl with Autism and this is where her passion was realized. KelLeigh had a strong desire to “understand how her brain worked and to understand what her behaviors meant” and to understand the little girl’s communication. KelLeigh “was amazed by her memory and the things in life that she loved (bowties, butter, fans, and the movie ‘Babe’) & the things that frightened her (Koosh balls and dogs)”. In graduate school, KelLeigh did an internship at Midlands Autism Division. She says that her “passion for families and kids with Autism has continued to grow. I have learned so much from the kids and families that I have served over the years. Every child—every family is different. They have different needs, strengths, and priorities. But they all love their children and want the best services to help them grow and learn. I have been blessed to help so many families access services in our community to help their children blossom”. KelLeigh shared that one of her favorite parts of her job happens when “a child acquires a new skill and the excitement the family feels at seeing ‘he is in there’. I love seeing the pride on children’s faces when they see they have learned something new. Hearing a child’s first words or sound or seeing his first sign is a miracle. I love when the mom and I look at each other with that look on our faces that says, ‘did he just say that?’. It is an amazing thing to witness”.
On a personal note, KelLeigh and her husband Chad have been married for 9 years and have a lab named Baylee. On the weekends, they can usually be found on their boat having fun on Lake Murray. They enjoy watching TV—mostly crime shows, but when Chad’s not around, KelLeigh gets to indulge in reality shows like ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Southern Charm’. She’s an avid reader and loves the escape that books provide. She also loves getting away to Edisto Beach. KelLeigh is an invaluable team member and embodies Bright Start’s mission. She is loved and highly respected by her families, co-workers, and other professionals. KelLeigh, since she is our…(ahem)…most seasoned EI veteran, is often our go-to when we EIs need advice, guidance, or just someone to listen. We are better because of you!
Thanks for taking a few minutes to meet our awesome Autism Team! They truly are special people and have hearts of gold. They are among the best in the business and their families & coworkers agree. Thank you, Bright Start Super Heroes, for all that you do for our Autism Families!
As always, we hope to see you all at our next Playgroup!