For the past several months, this space has chronicled the success stories of everyday people who have benefited from the services made available by the network of human service providers working under the umbrella of Lycoming County United Way. Those affected have been the young and the old, the affirmed and the healthy, the employed and the unemployed, all with one thing in common - the realization that when they needed help, it was available to them.
When making presentations on behalf of the United Way, executive director Scott N. Lowery often has pointed out, "You can't walk down the street, point a finger at someone and say there goes someone who will need the services United Way helps provide." Lowery emphasizes recipients of the services donor's contributions make possible don't wear labels. They are everyday people whose lives have been turned upside down by a life's circumstance they often didn't see coming.
Such was the case for Amy and Dean Kriebel. From all outward appearances the Kriebels were living the American dream. Tall and athletic, the former basketball standouts have good jobs, a home in the suburbs and a lifestyle blessed with health and happiness. Anxiously, they awaited the birth of their first child and the beginning of a new family.
Then it happened. Son Andrew was born in December 2000. He was a beautiful boy with blue eyes and never stopped smiling. Amy and Dean were elated as they had waited seven years for the happy occasion. Everything seemed normal for the first year of Andrew's life. That's when they began to notice Andrew wasn't meeting his plateaus. He also began to experience staring spells. Seizures began all too frequently and Andrew spent the next eight years in and out of hospitals.
Many doctors and medical tests revealed the youngster was suffering from Angelman Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder attacking the body's developmental capabilities.
The soon-to-be 9-year-old physically appears his age. However, the condition will limit his level of functioning to that of a 3-year-old. He cannot speak, has a sleep disorder that limits sleep to a few hours at a time, has a mouthing compulsion that requires constant attention to ensure he doesn't choke on foreign objects, is not able to be potty trained and his body temperature does not have an internal regulator not allowing him to be exposed to the hot summer weather.
"We had no warning as to what our lives would be like when we discovered Andrew's condition. I don't think anyone could be prepared for this, especially a young couple just starting out. Andrew's life has been filled with one doctor's appointment after another. When we finally found out what we were dealing with, we turned to the Children's Development Center and the help we've received there has been wonderful," father Dean explained.
"Through the various therapy sessions Andrew has undergone at Children's Development Center he is learning how to feed himself, how to ride a specially adapted bicycle and have the usage of special needs equipment that is outrageously expensive if you had to buy it. Before this happened to Andrew, Amy and I really had no knowledge of how the human service network worked or the important role United Way plays in helping people just like us."
While living with an everyday special needs youngster presents daily challenges the Kriebels are extending their own helping hands to others faced with similar situations. They have established "Andrew's Special Kid's Foundation" to raise money for other children with special needs in our area. Over the past five years more than $100,000 has been raised to assist 45 other families in buying much needed adaptive equipment, providing special tests and dietary needs. None of the Foundation's money is used for Andrew's needs.
Additionally, Dean volunteers his time to assist United Way in its annual campaign appeal by speaking at employee workplace meetings throughout the county.
"It is the least Amy and I can do to support United Way for all the help they annually provide for the families and individuals throughout Lycoming County who are facing their own difficult circumstances. With Andrew we found out that there are a lot of people out there willing to lend a helping hand. We are grateful for the help we've received and are doing the best we can to give back some of that help to others," Kriebel said.
Through its annual funds distribution process determined by community volunteers, United Way allocated $133,000 to Children's Development Center programs this year.
For information on how you can help support United Way and the area's human service programs visit www.lcuw.org or call 323-9448.