Happiness House celebrates 50 years of helping people in Ontario, Seneca, Yates and Wayne counties
What is it like living with autism? Jeremiah Iheoma wanted people to know. He was 10 years old when he wrote “My Super Life with Autism.”
Illustrated with pictures of clay figurines Jeremiah created with his art therapist, the book was on display along with other exhibits Tuesday at an open house celebrating the 50th anniversary of Happiness House. An organization offering programs and services in Ontario, Seneca, Yates and Wayne counties, Happiness House has made a huge difference for Jeremiah and thousands of others.
Now 15, Jeremiah was glad to show his book during the open house at the Happiness House Canandaigua site. It was the first of several events yet to come commemorating the anniversary.
Officially launched in 1969, Happiness House began when parents of children with cerebral palsy banded together in Geneva. The New York State Elks Club and the Women's Club of Geneva raised the money necessary to open the first childcare program in a house on North Street, serving five children with disabilities. Happiness House was then chosen to become the Finger Lakes affiliate of the United Cerebral Palsy Association of New York State. From there, Happiness House took off. Today, it is a major health and human service organization for children and adults with and without disabilities — in collaboration with families and partner organizations.
Finger Lakes United Cerebral Palsy, Inc./Happiness House offers a comprehensive array of programs serving more than 1,150 children, adults and their families in Ontario, Seneca, Wayne and Yates counties.
“It is amazing how much we have grown,” said Kim Cromwell, 56, at the open house in Canandaigua.
Like Jeremiah, Cromwell has found Happiness House to be a life-changer. With Happiness House programs for over 20 years, Cromwell discovered the organization after suffering two strokes within two and a half months, when she was 34 and just after turning 35 years old. The trauma left her needing a lot of treatment and support from caring and expert professionals. Rebuilding verbal and written skills was huge, along with overcoming many other obstacles. Talking freely and with a sense of pride and sense of humor, Cromwell explained why she is a big fan of Happiness House whose programs and people she says are remarkable.
Even years after her strokes, and coming such a long way, she continues to build memory and writing skills through Happiness House programs. She is a member of a walking group and a photo club, and participates in art shows and projects. “Those are the coolest things,” she said.
With Happiness House, “we always go for bigger and better. We won’t stop,” Cromwell said. “We are warriors.
“Sometimes we still get a little down, a little challenged,” she added. “But we never quit. We all have to face obstacles. Just that some are bigger obstacles than others. Knowing that helps. No one is alone.”
Jeremiah’s mom, Lisa Peck, said her son has come a long way since he was diagnosed with autism several years before he wrote his book. Jeremiah doesn’t view his diagnosis of autism as a bad thing. He wants other kids to know that having autism isn't the end of the world. He views his diagnosis more like having his very own special "super power."
“One thing that is crucial in raising a child with a success story like Jeremiah is having an organization like Happiness House by your side every step of the way,” Peck said. “Without them I would be a lost sailor out to sea trying navigate a big ocean by myself. They always say it takes a village to raise a child. This is something I truly believe. If I had not reached out to them I could have never done this by myself. We all collaboratively worked together and supported Jeremiah with all the proper supports he needed to be successful.”
A freshman at Canandaigua Academy, Jeremiah is an honor student and does public speaking to raise awareness about autism. He thinks about writing another book, though “making friends is his number-one priority right now,” Peck said.
What is it like to write a book? “It takes patience,” Jeremiah said.
For more information on Happiness House and upcoming anniversary events, visit https://www.happinesshouse.org/