In July 2011, Dolores Collins was featured as MetroFamily’s “Real Mom of the Metro” for her tireless efforts as a special needs advocate, gracing the cover with daughters LaKaya and Jasmine, then 15 and 11, respectively. A paraprofessional when we first met her, Dolores became a teacher in Moore three years ago, and now serves as an Education Specialist in her hometown of Visalia, Calif. The Collins family has also welcomed a fourth girl. Amidst changes, Dolores’ resilience, work ethic and absolute joy in being a mom are just as palpable as they were seven years ago, and she continues to serve special needs children both in the classroom and at home.
LaKaya, now 22, was born with a rare brain malformation, classified a Dandy-Walker variant. Symptoms of the disease include slow motor development and enlargement of the skull. The effect of Dandy-Walker on children’s intellectual development is highly variable; in LaKaya’s case, Dolores says she is cognitively between 3 and 5 years old. At the time of their appearance on the cover, Jasmine, now 19, was dealing with selective mutism, a form of anxiety. But persistence and positivity run deep in this family. Dolores shares how she and her girls continue to support and encourage one another, each conquering new heights since we saw them last.
What do you remember about being on the cover of the magazine?
Mari Farthing [MetroFamily editor at the time] lived in my neighborhood, and she would always put in the magazine the proclamation that May was Dandy-Walker Month. One year, she asked me to speak about Dandy-Walker Syndrome and featured me in the July issue. The magazine really helped in my efforts to bring awareness for my daughter and Dandy-Walker Syndrome.
How are your girls doing now?
LaKaya and Jasmine were able to graduate together from Moore High School, LaKaya at 22 and Jasmine at 18. Jasmine has always been a great caretaker to LaKaya, especially in high school, she would give rides and do everything for her. Jasmine is getting ready to go into the Air Force. It was a tough decision because it’s always been just us girls. But whenever she gets a break, she plans to come home and visit.
LaKaya is the reason why I moved back here (to California) because there aren’t any programs for developmentally disabled adults in Moore. I wanted her to thrive, and I was able to get her into a program at a social vocational center. She goes there during the day and is able to go out in the community so she’s not stuck at home.
And you’ve added a third sister to the mix?
Yes, I have a 20-year gap between my oldest and my youngest! Faleeyn is 2 years old. Because of LaKaya’s cognitive level, she and Faleeyn are so close. Once Jasmine reached a certain age, she took over [as the big sister], but now LaKaya can take Faleeyn around and get her a snack. She loves to care for little ones.
How have you continued to challenge yourself professionally?
I became a teacher [in Moore] three years ago, and now I’m an Education Specialist in the Visalia School District. It was very hard to leave Oklahoma because I had been there 10 years, and it was a quick decision when I found the program for LaKaya. I had to sell my house within a month, and when we left I had no job [in California], just hope. I was able to transfer here, with still a little work to do because California requires a little more [for certification].
How did your appearance in the magazine help raise awareness for Dandy-Walker in the metro?
The magazine helped us meet more families [affected by Dandy-Walker]. I never knew of another family that had Dandy-Walker, but from the magazine exposure, someone contacted me at work and another person recognized me in Walmart, and both families had Dandy-Walker. We became three families that would have BBQs and just meet up and be together. It was amazing. We’ve branched out and met more families and were able to help them.
What’s your favorite thing to do as a family?
We like to be outside, and thankfully it doesn’t get as cold here! We go to the park or feed the ducks.
Since your family was on the cover, what are each of your proudest accomplishments?
My girls are grown up and they are still so loving and respectful. My biggest fear was that your children get to a certain age and don’t need you or don’t show respect, but they are loving, caring and respectful. They still thank me for the little things, like making dinner. Every time I come through the door, LaKaya is running up and giving hugs.
I’ve furthered myself with my position [as an Education Specialist], going from being a paraprofessional and just making ends meet to being a teacher, which was still difficult, and then being able to come here and provide [for my family] without any help. LaKaya will always be with me, and I know she is going to be okay because I can continue to provide for her.