Simple Ideas with Profound Impact
2018 was a wild ride, allow me to tell you why
The REACH Family Institute and BrainFit Kids really exist for only two reasons… to celebrate human potential and to honor human dignity and respect for life. We celebrate human potential by empowering parents with cutting edge knowledge about child brain development and sharing our four decades of clinical experience with them. We honor human dignity by teaching respect for life, and by serving children of all levels of ability from all segments of society.
All of us at REACH/BFK see all of you as part of our very large international family. Because of that, I want to share with you some of the highlights of this past year, some of the challenges we faced, and some of the lessons we learned. I’ll wrap up with a peek at what we have in store for you in 2019.
This past year was, in many ways, a remarkable year as we celebrated some fantastic milestones in our history.
A Few Milestones
40th anniversary – In 1978, REACH co-founder and Director, Charles R. Solis, Jr. led a group of six brain-injured young adults (the Appalachian Trail Challenge Team) on a successful thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Starting on April 8th at Springer Mountain in Georgia, they traversed 13 states, enduring extreme heat and humidity, freezing rain and snow, dense fog and howling winds. They suffered through painful blisters, hypothermia and physical exhaustion. And those were only the physical challenges! Most people who thru-hike the Appalachian Trail do so alone because it is far more difficult to hike for months on end with a group. Under Charles’ leadership, the Challenge Team reached the summit of Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine on September 15th, his 25th birthday. They were the first group (able-bodied or disabled) in history to successfully thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail as a group. Their record still stands today.
30th anniversary – In 1988, at Hacienda Santa Teresa in Venezuela, we launched the Programa Leopoldo Pilot Project, a volunteer effort to serve poor families with brain-injured children. Starting with just three families, the project quickly grew and within four years was serving 32 families with a waiting list of more than 500 families from all over Venezuela. In 1992, Programa Leopoldo officially began as a “train the trainer” program for Venezuelan professionals. From 1992 to 2002, Charles and Conceição trained more than 200 Venezuelan doctors (specialists in pediatrics and physical medicine/rehabilitation), physical, occupational, and speech therapists, psychologists, and special education teachers. Working together with Sra. Christine Vollmer, Association Provive, and the Alberto J. Vollmer Foundation they forged a unique partnership with the Venezuelan Ministries of Health and Education and opened 34 centers throughout Venezuela where children with developmental difficulties could be seen free of charge.
25th anniversary – In 1993, the mayor of La Victoria in Venezuela, Ismael Garcia, commissioned a study to determine the incidence of children with developmental difficulties in his region. Stunned by the high percentage of children with a wide range of neurological problems he sought our assistance in bringing badly needed help to them and their families. Later that year we inaugurated the Casa de La Mujer in La Victoria which was staffed by several recent graduates from our professional training program and funded by the city of La Victoria. This was the very first center opened in Venezuela where the initiative and funding came from the governing officials. Charles and Ismael, now a Deputy in the National Assembly, remain good friends to this day.
20th anniversary – In 1998, on the heels of a presentation on Programa Leopoldo at a conference at the Vatican, REACH was awarded non-profit status as an organization formed for charitable and educational purposes.
Launch of BrainFit Kids – In April of 2018, we launched our BrainFit Kids website, blog, and 7-day Free Email Course “Make the first three years count!” BrainFit Kids was years in the planning and creation and we are thrilled that hundreds of people are now taking our course each month.
This past year was also a year of monumental challenges for us, challenges that were personal but that were intricately woven with everything that we teach and have experienced throughout our professional careers.
The challenges involved family and stepping up when help was needed. Mom was suffering the effects of cancer and its treatment, Dad was in the downward spiral of Alzheimer’s disease. Because of failing health they could no longer care for themselves or live safely in their home unless someone could step in to care for them. The question was who? Without getting into the details (there are a lot of details!), after weighing all of the options, we told my mother that we would move in with her and my dad and care for them until the end of their lives.
So began a year of total devotion as Conceição and I took over responsibility for every aspect of their lives. Eventually this involved everything from cooking meals, administering medication, washing clothing, and cleaning the house; to bathing, changing diapers, dressing, and spoon feeding. We did this while simultaneously continuing our work with the children on the West Coast and in France, and traveling to Oregon to pack up our house for the move to the East Coast.
Once my mother knew that we were in it for the long haul, she was able to relax and give herself permission to let go. Mom passed peacefully at home surrounded by her sons and Conceição on the morning of January 22, 2018.
Caring for my father was a very different story. Over the course of the year, as his cognitive decline progressed we saw many different versions of him. At times he was like a hyperactive two year old. At times he was lethargic. Some days he slept until noon. Some days he was up at 5:00 am. Some nights he slept well, some nights he didn’t sleep at all. Most of the time he was very confused, occasionally he was incredibly lucid.
It was a constant roller coaster. Eventually, he no longer recognized either of us. When I would tell him I was Charlie Solis he would smile and say, “Me too!, How about that!” Winter turned to spring, and spring into summer. Dad slowly but surely lost more and more of his memory and his confusion got worse and worse. But, physically he was in great shape and so we planned on this being our life for the foreseeable future.
In July, Conceição went to California to help our daughter, Juliana, and son-in-law, Jack, and the grandchildren with their move from Chicago to the Bay Area. What started as a week or so long trip to help with the transition turned into a 6-week encampment as almost everything that could go wrong with the move, did go wrong. It was rough on everyone but it could have been a lot rougher if not for Vovó (grandmother in Portuguese). Conceição stepped in and lightened the load of caring for the children considerably, thus allowing Juliana and Jack to deal with the myriad issues confronting them.
And then summer turned into fall. In October, at a routine checkup with his cardiologist, we learned that Dad’s heart was failing. Still, he seemed to be doing well in general so life went on. I went to Oregon to pack our belongings for the move. Just as I was finishing up, on the day the movers loaded the truck for the trip to Pennsylvania, my father passed peacefully at home surrounded by my three brothers and Conceição on the morning of December 19, 2018. It still saddens me that I was not there but I have to believe that deep down Dad was OK with that. We had spent so many special moments together during the course of his last year. We had said what needed to be said.
Some Lessons Learned
- Principles are principles! – I spent a lot of time thinking about our decision and commitment to my parents and why, beyond the obvious reasons, we decided to do it. With time and reflection I realized that our entire careers involved work based on two fundamental principles – respect for life and honoring the dignity of every human person no matter their circumstance. We taught these principles for decades in many different situations from individual consultations with families to speeches at the Vatican and in Geneva. I came to understand that the real reason for our decision is that it was inevitable. If we were to remain true to our principles, we had to “walk the talk”!
- Our parents are HEROES! – Throughout our careers, we have always admired the incredible courage and dedication of the parents we work with who have brain-injured children on our Home Program. We often call them the “jewels” of society. They do heroic work with their children, with no recognition, often with little relief, often for decades. We had a taste of this many years ago during our training. We worked in a school with young adults and served as their surrogate parents. We lived with them, ate with them, served as dormitory supervisors, etc. When I took my group on the thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I was responsible for them 24/7 for nearly six straight months with almost no time off. So, we had a sense for what our parents live with on a daily basis. Or so we thought! Our experience living with and caring for my parents multiplied our admiration for them a thousand fold!
- Family is what really matters! – Author Steven Covey was fond of an exercise where you imagine yourself at your own funeral. What will people say about you? How do you want to be remembered? Covey also often said that when on their deathbed nobody wishes they had spent more time at the office. When people have regrets they virtually always involve family. Nothing mattered more to my parents than their family. I had many occasions over the past year to meet people who knew Dad well and every one of them told me that he was always most proud of his four boys. He considered being our father to be his greatest calling and his greatest accomplishment. He was a wise man. Conceição and I cared for my parents until the end of their lives, providing them with the love and support that they so generously gave to me and my brothers when we were growing up. RIP Charles R. and Alma M. Solis. No regrets!
A Peek at 2019
We can’t say too much yet because we are currently transitioning from our role as full-time caregivers. But we can give you some hints. Expect to see a lot more online presence from BrainFit Kids this year. Some of the things we’ve got in the pipeline – Online Video Courses, Online Consultations, Mentoring Programs, BFK Podcast, E-books…
I’d like to leave you with a small but important piece of advice. Teach your children to be flexible. Flexibility is critical when it comes to handling changes in life and life often changes. Also, teach them what really matters in life. People, especially family and friends, are important. They should be treated with love and respect! The rest is just stuff! If we all teach our children to love and respect the people in our lives we will have a much more compassionate world. So, let’s all do our part by beginning at home.
Apologies for the length of this post today. It was important to me to share these thoughts with you as all of it is so woven together as if part of a cloth.
I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. We have much to learn from each other! Share your stories, your struggles and triumphs. Send us your questions, and let us know what topics you want us to cover in the coming year.
Thank you everyone for your love and support this past year and cheers to a 2019 filled with promise and possibility!