HOSPERS—Two brothers from Hospers have been named the 2019 Smile Ambassadors for Camp High Hopes in Sioux City.
Isaac DeRosa, 17, and Giovanni “Gio” Burd, 14, became the Smile Ambassadors on Nov. 14, at a ceremony in Sioux City.
Camp High Hopes is a year-round camp for people with disabilities. Isaac and Gio have autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and were excited when they found out about the honor.
The boys’ mother, Fran Burd, said she was not sure if they fully understand what it means, but they are thrilled to represent the camp, which is their happy place.
“They go there one week every summer and they love it,” she said. “It gives them time away from mom and dad. They develop skills, make friends, do fun activities. They learn about who they are and what they like.”
As ambassadors, the brothers will help raise awareness of the camp by participating in a variety of events throughout the area.
One of the perks of being Smile Ambassadors is they got to ride on the Camp High Hopes float in the Sioux City Holiday Lighted Parade on Monday evening, Nov. 19. They also will make an appearance at the annual Haunted Lodge Party in October.
Fran adopted Isaac when he was born and he was diagnosed at age 2.
“When I first found out Isaac had autism, I was devastated,” she said. “He was my only child and I am unable to have children. He was perfect, so when I heard that, I was devastated.
“I moped around a few days, and then my husband asked me what my problem was. When I told him Isaac was autistic, he said, ‘Yeah? So what? He’s still the little boy he was before. He’s fun, happy and people love being around him. You can sit around and feel sorry for yourself or you can go out and advocate for your child.’ I decided to advocate.”
Fran said her husband, Kevin, works hard with Isaac and Gio. He takes them to MOC-Floyd Valley High School in Orange City, where Isaac is a junior and Gio is a freshman, and makes their appointments.
After Kevin spoke to her about her choices, Fran went to the library and checked out every book on autism. She also borrowed every book the Northwest Area Education Agency had available. Fran read everything she could and began volunteering at Kinsey Elementary in Sioux Center when Isaac was in first grade.
She fell in love with teaching, decided to finish her degree and is a special education teacher at the George-Little Rock Middle School in Little Rock. Without that first diagnosis, Fran said she never would have discovered her love of teaching special education.
Gio was adopted out of foster care two years ago. He came to the Burd family at the age of 11, carrying the dual diagnosis with him.
“Isaac wanted a brother,” Fran said. “He came from Cleveland, Ohio, and he has been with us for three years.”
The personalities of the brothers differ. Fran described Gio as the strong, silent type who loves basketball. She said he is good at it.
Isaac is the friendly, outgoing entertainer of the family who loves to be in front of people. Despite their struggles, Fran said the lives of her boys have not changed.
“All kids have struggles,” she said. “There are things they are good at and things they have to try harder at. For them, it is social skills. We never let them use their diagnosis as an excuse. We tell them if there is a goal they want to reach, they can reach it.”