CHESTERTON — At 8 months old, little Levi Evans couldn't sit up, couldn't hold his bottle.
He was diagnosed with infantile spasms, said his mother, Brittany Evans, of Whiting. He was referred to First Steps and began receiving services through Jacob's Ladder Pediatric Rehabilitation Center.
At 12 months old, Levi couldn't talk, couldn't say anything.
"Now he says Momma," Evans said last week, brushing away a tear while she watched her son interact with a therapist at Jacob's Ladder. He's now 2 years old and was also diagnosed with autism in December.
"Therapists have gone above and beyond to help Levi and my family," she said, adding she makes the drive from Whiting to Chesterton three days a week so that Levi can receive services from the center. He gets therapy and is involved in JL Academy, a structured playgroup for youngsters with disabilities. He also receives aqua therapy.
Levi is one of the nearly 600 youngsters who receive services from Jacob's Ladder, a nonprofit agency geared to helping disabled youngsters with physical, occupational and speech therapy and more.
The center was founded 18 years ago by Mariann Frigo when she couldn't find services for her son Jacob who was diagnosed with Down syndrome. It recently moved from South Haven to a new facility at 1595 S. Calumet Road in Chesterton.
Part of the move, said Candace Arvin, director of marketing and development, was initiated by the center receiving a $58,000 grant from the Starlight Children's Foundation. The foundation allowed Jacob's Ladder to purchase new equipment such as a slide, gym, climbing wall, special flooring and pirate ship for use in therapy sessions.
"The therapy gym allows children to work on more gross motor skills," said Arvin, whose son also is a client at the center.
"It means the world to them. When you make therapy fun for kids, they want to come. This is a tremendous impact for those who are hesitant to come," said Arvin, adding the equipment in particular gives more opportunities to help older, teenage clients.
The move has also provided additional therapy rooms.
When Frigo, a therapist, began the center 18 years ago, she hoped to reach eight youngsters a week.
Now, said Arvin, therapists make 350 to 400 visits weekly to First Steps clients and have between 150 and 200 visits from school-age children at the center each week.
First Steps is a service provided by the state for infants through 3-year-olds. Jacob's Ladder is a provider of First Steps services in a seven-county area of Northwest Indiana.
The center provides services for children through their teen years, but, said Arvin, most are under 12.
The numbers, she said, don't include attendance at other programs, such as the JL Academy, Lights Up, Sound Down family theater program, aquatics therapy, respite care for parents or summer camps.
As a nonprofit, Jacob's Ladder does not cap the number of Medicaid patients it takes, Arvin said. Instead, she said, they actively fund raise to help provide services to low-income patients. About 50 percent of the children served are on Medicaid and the center raises about $70,000 a year to supplement services for those children.
Therapists help children with diagnoses ranging from autism to Down syndrome to muscular dystrophy and help youngsters recover from cancer and traumatic injury.