Heather returned to New York’s Valhalla School last week to visit the children who benefit from the school’s special needs learning programme. Taking the opportunity to interact with the children, Heather spent the day laughing, playing and dancing with the school’s young pupils.

The Valhalla School in New York provides educational services to more than 200 pre-schoolers and 100 after-school students, and features integrated classrooms in pre, day and after school programmes composed equally of general education and special education students.  The classes are staffed to provide the additional support that children with disabilities or special needs require, including therapy and individualised programs of instruction.

The school is run by Easter Seals New York, a branch of the Easter Seals charity which operates in the United States. Easter Seals is the leading not-for-profit provider of services for individuals with autism, developmental disabilities, physical and mental disabilities, and other special needs in America. It aims to ensure that children with disabilities are nurtured and able to participate in wider society

Heather has long been a champion of special needs schooling, working over the years to increase awareness and improve educational facilities. A patron of Easter Seals, she previously received the organisation’s highest honour in 2010: The Lilli and Allan Shedlin Award, for her ‘uncompromising commitment to helping others, advocacy, and generosity.’

‘For over two decades, Heather has been dedicating her life to helping children, and Easter Seals New York is honoured to have such a distinguished advocate on our Board,’ said John W. McGrath, MPA, Senior Vice President of Organizational Development for Easter Seals New York. ‘We know that Heather will bring the much-needed awareness to our crucial programs and services provided to children and adults with disabilities and other special needs.’

Key components of Easter Seals in their mission for better educational facilities are Child Development Centres like the one in Valhalla. These provide young children with a setting that encourages them to participate fully in life and to nurture their ambitions. In addition to this is the added benefit of a community that supports students and their families, as well as access to innovations and new technologies.

Sitting on a beautiful two-acre property, the Valhalla campus now boasts 16 classrooms, a fully-accessible playground, sensory room, therapeutic suites, library and computer lab, garden, gymnasium, and auditorium. Heather also recently contributed $125,000 (£100,000) in support of the Valhalla Child Development Center—(now named the Heather Mills Child Development Center), to help further expand the school’s facilities.  

Easter Seals said:

‘Since Heather’s generous donation, we have improved our Occupational and Physical Therapy Gym, and added a Speech Suite.   We’ve expanded our services to include a wider population base by offering a special class setting for those students with greater needs as well as related services for students that require less instructional support, but require support in speech or fine motor development in the community or local preschool.’

Hoping to increase awareness of the work Easter Seals does, Heather was named the ‘International Advocate for Children with Disabilities’ for Easter Seals, when  joining the Board for Easter Seals New York in support of its efforts, over a decade a go.

Those formative, early years of learning are key, and being a mother myself I see how important that is. If you’ve never experienced that and know nothing of it and you suddenly have your first child who has learning difficulties, that’s a big challenge, so Easter Seals is making all the difference.

’Just watching how motivated the kids are and how dedicated the therapists are, who wouldn’t want to get involved and help? I talk to a lot of people and say there are different ways we can help, it’s not just the financial side that I’m lucky enough to be able to help with, it’s about putting in time and energy.

’Today being here at Easter Seals has inspired me yet again. The most shy and timid children, when you actually find out what makes them tick, even if they don’t know it themselves, can just come out and blossom. And that’s what’s amazing, it’s like watching an orchid suddenly explode with beauty.

’Everybody can be integrated if you find out what they’re brilliant at. Everyone has something.
— Heather following her recent visit to the Valhalla School.

Easter Seals New York has worked for over 90 years to provide services for people with special needs, ensuring they enjoy equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play in their communities.

For more information about Easter Seals New York, click here.