Dawn’s eyes still well up with tears every time she recalls the moment her daughter Myah unwrapped the shiny white toy car.

“The car had a little horn and Myah’s face just lit up with joy because she could operate the car all by herself,” Dawn said.

“It was amazing to see Myah in a car that any other kid could sit in,” recalled Myah’s father Tim.

For the Muskego couple, it was the first time they gave their 6-year-old daughter a gift that didn’t come from a catalogue of physical therapy toys.

It was the second life-changing moment for this Muskego couple.

When Myah was born eight weeks early, doctors diagnosed her with Down syndrome, cortical blindness and receptive-expressive language disorder.

By age four, she struggled through multiple surgeries, including heart, intestinal, eye, hip, and sinus procedures. They left Myah with emotional as well as physical scars.

“When I first met her, all she did was scream,” said Lynn, Myah’s physical therapist at Vision Forward. “She kept her head down and when I touched her she’d just push me away.”

After that first interaction with Myah, Lynn and other staff knew they had to earn this little girl’s trust if they were ever going to be able to help her. One success was through music.

“I noticed right away her positive reactions to different sounds,” said Lynn. “I learned I could motivate Myah with music. I could get her to do anything really by just playing songs.”

Within a month of being part of the United Way-funded early education program, Myah’s parents started to see remarkable progress. 

“Myah didn’t talk or move for three years,” said Dawn. “Strangers would see her in public and think she was sleeping. Now she was picking up her head, and when we’d walk into a grocery store she would say ‘hi!’ to people who’d pass by.”

Her love of music has also grown.

“Myah’s such a superstar in music class,” said Lynn. “She’s verbally modeling for the other children now and the other students repeat it.”

Myah’s family and the Vision Forward staff credit her success to the collaborative partnership with United Way. 

“United Way funding for our early education program is so critical,” said Terri Davis, Executive Director for Vision Forward. “Right now there are no reimbursable state dollars to teach a kid like Myah how to walk with a white cane, to teach a child pre-braille, or important literacy skills. These are skills she will need in order to be successful academically later in life.”

Last year, 80% of children who participated in the United Way-funded early education program improved in the development of both social and emotional skills.

“Our youngest kids are where we can make the biggest difference in the future,” said Jim McLaughlin, United Way Education Portfolio Manager. “In their earliest years, infants and toddlers are not only learning words and taking first steps – they’re building an understanding of who they are and what they can do. That’s why United Way invests in programs that support kids and their parents so they’re on track from day one.”

“Every day I’m amazed at the progress that can happen when children like Myah are given the opportunities to succeed,” said Davis. “It’s really how United Way helps us, they give us that opportunity to be able to support these children and families, and it’s a wonderful partnership.”

As Myah’s parents start planning for her transition into the Muskego-Norway school district next year, they can breathe a little easier knowing their daughter is ready for the next step.

The staff at Vision Forward couldn’t agree more.  But they are definitely sad to see her go. “She’s so ready to move on,” said Lynn. “I’m already preparing myself to say goodbye, but it’s not going to be easy.”

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