Six months ago I could not have imagined, or made up, the amazing experience my son would have on his 13th birthday surrounded by Bellcate friends, staff, students, and families.

Prior to this year, my son had birthday parties at home that included extended family members and children who were kids of my friend’s. Building lasting relationships has been a complex puzzle for Isaiah and has not come easily. In fact, with a lot of support and intentional social skills teaching, he has been invited to only one birthday party in his 13 years in school. This is heartbreaking to witness as a mother and is in stark contrast to what happened this year!

While Isaiah has only been at Bellcate for about six months, he has made many connections, relationships, and (dare I say) friendships! While he has started sharing stories about some of his peers and staff, it was not until witnessing his birthday party at Spare Time Bowling Center that I realized just how wrapped in support and nurturing he was.

Staff showed up on Saturday afternoon (their personal time!) to share in Isaiah’s special day. Not only did they attend, some actually helped transport students to the party as well! The smiles, hugs, and high fives had me grinning from the moment we arrived. I had not see my son so genuinely happy before! This experience could have been anxiety producing for him, but with the support and encouragement of the staff the he knows and trusts, the day went off without a hitch (even in a fairly busy, loud environment). Additionally, parents and students showed up to the party and even brought gifts – that literally had me crying tears of joy!

Isaiah is blessed to have a mentor from MMU that he sees at Bellcate. His mentor knows how much Isaiah loves basketball and sports. I could not believe my eyes when Isaiah opened a gift from him that contained this young man’s Varsity Basketball Jersey. This is a highly personal and selfless gift, one that had so much connection and meaning that I was shocked! To me this jersey represented hundreds of hours of practice, perseverance, sweat, and rigor. It is a symbol of working together as a team and taking the wins and losses with grace! Isaiah immediately ran into the restroom to put his new jersey on. When I later thanked him personally for his more than generous gift, he simply replied, ”No problem, I love Isaiah”! This humble young man has made more of an impact and difference for my son then he will ever know.

There was also a student who decided to give Isaiah his very own prized Harlem Globetrotter Basketball, signed by one of the players. Not only did this gift show he knows Isaiah’s interest and passions, but that he was wanting and willing to give Isaiah something extremely special. This young man is kind and generous.

These are the kind of young adults I want my son to be around – those who know the challenges that we all face sometimes, those who do not give up easily, who know what it means to work hard and persevere, and those who share their time, talents, and previous experiences with others.

Before we enrolled Isaiah at Bellcate, Jesse told us we would be working on social interactions, having a safe body, self regulation, communication skills, and emphasizing Isaiah’s interests while charting his growth with the challenges he entered with. What Jesse did not explicitly explain is that all this happens in an environment filled with unconditional love! We thought what we were getting was a school placement that was skilled at making accommodations and providing individualized learning but what we actually got was a new extended family and community where all people (children and adults) are respected, honored, and wrapped in love and support!

In six short months, Bellcate has enabled my son to take social and academic risks I never could have predicted. His language skills have blossomed and his confidence and self esteem have magically appeared. He is sharing about his experiences and showing he is feeling safe and connected.

What more could a mom ask for? Absolutely nothing. Thank you to Bellcate and the amazing people that make this community what it is. We are blessed to part of your learning community!