Jeannette Wagner says her MVCDC home visitor, Debbie Hilliard, really listens to her about what she wants for her son. Four-year-old Gene has Down’s syndrome and persistent pulmonary hypertension and is non-verbal. 

“Debbie is very respectful and doesn’t blow me off,” says Jeannette. She recalls that a speech therapist she met with wanted Gene to learn to speak rather than eat. “She thought learning to say ‘Mama’ was more important than getting Gene off a feeding tube,” says Jeannette. “To have someone who hasn’t lived what you’ve lived and still be supportive of where you’re at, that’s important.”

Today Gene is learning to communicate using symbols and sign language. “We want him to be able to point at a picture of an apple and tell us that’s what he wants,” Jeannette says.

Even before the pandemic, Jeannette needed a home visitor because Gene’s health is too fragile for him to attend an in-person Head Start program.

Jeannette credits Debbie, who has worked with the family for two years, with helping Gene learn to crawl. 

“She and I would roll a ball past each other, and when he reached out, we encouraged him to get it,” says Jeannette. “We went from a child who couldn’t get around to a child who could crawl.” Now Gene is walking.

Throughout the pandemic, Debbie has found ways to ensure Gene keeps progressing. She’s sent Jeannette laminated pictures of things with VELCRO®on the back so Gene can match items and make connections.

Debbie also invited Jeannette and Gene to participate in Zoom calls with other families and even a firefighter to explain fire safety. “Debbie gives us access to opportunities.”