Karen doesn’t speak, but even as a non-verbal adult with other physical and cognitive disabilities, her sister truly believes she’s happy in her days.
You can tell when she’s happy or excited because she rocks back and forth.
“She loves music. She loves to go out. She’s very interested in things that go on around her,” said Karen’s sister, Linda Eslinger.
She also loves playing with infant toys and tying small chains into knots, but she really loves a woman by the name of Kelly Jacobson.
“Kelly has a heart for [adults with disabilities],” explained Linda. “She is so sensitive to their needs, to even their desires when they’re not spoken like Karen.”
Kelly took Karen on a special trip to Florida that was full of firsts.
“We got the plane and you immediately knew she felt a difference.”
That was her first time on an airplane.
“She reached over and grabbed my arm and held onto as if to say ‘Okay, I can do this if you’re here with me,” said Kelly.
Karen enjoyed her first day at the beach.
“She could feel the difference of me pulling her wheelchair in the sand.”
“To get down in the sand with her and sit there, putting the sand in her hand and touching it on her legs and taking her down to the ocean’s edge and watching the water come up and see her reactions. It’s really hard to describe.”
And no Florida vacation is complete without a trip to Disney World, where Karen went for a spin on the Dumbo ride and a took in the serene float on It’s a Small World.
“I think it added to her life significantly,” said Linda.
Kelly works with a non-profit called Stellar Care Vacations, based in Colorado Springs, that takes adults with special needs on their one-on-one dream vacation.
“Isn’t that what gets all of us over the hump some days, those moments we can draw on,” said Kelly.
So far, Kelly has taken 40 clients on what’s usually the first and only vacation of their lives.
The trips cost anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000, depending on the client’s medical needs.
Saving up for the trip helps clients learn to budget, as they store away money each month, for years.
Individuals and companies can also sponsor these trips, but even if they still fall short, the trip must go on. In those cases, Kelly waives her companion fee.
“We are showing (that) you matter. You can do anything everybody else can do. These moments are just as important for you as they are for me,” said Kelly.
One of those clients is Joaquin, who just loves everything Godzilla.
Kelly was organizing a trip to Japan for Joaquin and his dad, Fred, but in the midst of the planning, Fred got really sick.
“When I came in, his father was dying.”
To everyone else, it looked like their trip of a lifetime might not happen after all. Not on Kelly’s watch.
The two of them flew across the world and did everything Joaquin and his dad dreamed about.
“[Joaquin] said ‘Hey, Kelly’ I said ‘What’s up?’ He reached up, put his hand on his heart, and he said ‘My dad’s with us. My dad’s going with us,” Kelly remembered, her eyes welling up with tears.
She also reconnects families.
“As [adults with disabilities] get older and their parents pass away, siblings may have moved away and started their own families or jobs or this or that. So, a lot of times there can be a disconnect there because of the proximity because the adults with special needs can’t travel to see them.”
A man by the name of Lynn was in that exact predicament.
His brother’s wife was battling cancer, so he wasn’t able to travel to see Lynn.
Once again, Kelly came to the rescue, not even sleeping during the trip because Lynn required around the clock care.
Kelly’s favorite moment of that trip was watching Lynn kick back in a recliner, looking just how you should on vacation.
“He was so relaxed! His brother was there! They laughed! They had all these moments and I would kind of snap pictures as we were going. There was so much love there in that family.”
A month after that special, healing trip, Lynn passed away.
“If we haven’t been able to provide that opportunity, they may never have seen him.”
The trips make an immeasurable difference in their lives, but they’ve changed Kelly too.
“For me, it’s changed my pace and how I look at situations and how I slow down and appreciate moments.”
Moments like the ones that give Karen that extra bounce.