Project Frilloon: Surprise Delivery
“Lila’s greatest gift is her ability to see all of the awe and wonder in this world despite her inability to explore it on two feet. She is such a happy kid and exudes such optimism and strength – it’s inspiring even to me, her own mother. I draw much of my courage from the joy I see in her despite such challenges.” – Aimee
The January Project Frilloon™ surprise delivery went to two special ladies: Lila Tjader, and her mom, Aimee Blanchette. Aimee and Lila were nominated by local entrepreneur, Sarah Edwards, of I AM KINDNESS and I AM MPLS! “I first met Aimee when she reached out to me about a Star Tribune ‘day in the life,’ feature” Sarah says. “It’s funny, because after meeting Aimee and hearing her story, I thought she should be the one on the front page! I think Aimee and Lila are both such incredibly brave, strong women. Aimee is so full of positivity and inspires me through her determination, work ethic, and love for Lila.”
As we heard more of Aimee and Lila’s story, we couldn’t help but agree with Sarah! Lila was born with cerebral palsy, and Aimee is raising her as a single mother. (Though she is quick to point out that she gets lots of help from her incredible boyfriend, Nate, who loves Lila as if she were his own.) “Lila has moderate spastic CP that affects her legs and her right arm. She’s unable to crawl or walk, but she can talk very well,” says Aimee. “We are in the process of getting Lila’s wheelchair and we are all very excited for the independence that the chair will give her. Instead of being wheeled into school in a stroller, she can help push herself in her chair. She feels very much like an independent and big girl in her chair, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Despite the limitations she faces, Lila is a happy girl and brightens any room she enters, as we experienced when we surprised her with a Frilloon at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. What a joy she is! Lila loves to sing and, according to her mom, “She can hear a song a time or two and then sing it herself–it’s kind of crazy how good her memory is. One day the song ‘Wrecking Ball’ came on the radio while we were driving and Lila belted the whole thing. I had no idea that she knew the song!” She also loves to ride her horse, Lily. She rides as a form of hippotherapy at the Twin Cities nonprofit Hold Your Horses, and has been doing so since she was 18 months old. Aimee says this has significantly improved her core strength, and that just last week she was able to ride her horse around the arena twice with no extra support. Lila also loves books, and Aimee says she is “an avid tea party host and a very good mommy to her dollies. Even though she can’t physically explore on her own, I refuse to let that stop her from experiencing life as a ‘typical’ child. She’s been skating, bowling, swimming, sledding and can ride a bike.”
Aimee has been a writer at the Star Tribune for nearly ten years, and a lifestyle reporter for four. She covers style, fashion, relationships, and general assignment reporting on community members doing interesting things. “My favorite part is learning something new each time I write a story and getting to the know cool people who make up our community,” she says. “I spend most of my free time learning the various aspects of living a life with a special needs child, brainstorming ideas that will better help Lila to be her best, writing about my experience as a special needs mommy, and showing Lila the amazing world around her. I also enjoy snowboarding, cooking, reading, spending time with family, and daydreaming about how I’m going to decorate our new home on a budget.”
“More than anything, I want Lila to be happy and confident, and I believe she is, so I feel truly blessed,” says Aimee. “Cognitively, Lila is exceptionally smart and I am so grateful for that. With CP, you just never know. I spent her first two-and-a-half years holding my breath, wondering if she’d be able to talk or be in a mainstream classroom learning at the same level as her classmates. She’s blown me away. She went from speaking roughly 30 singular words at two-and-a-half, then suddenly one day she started putting two and three and four words together. She speaks (and sings) very well now and no longer requires speech therapy. She even has a bit of sass. I don’t know if Lila will ever be able to walk on her own and I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it. If she does, great. But she will have a rewarding and fulfilling life regardless. It has been a very difficult past four years, but we are stronger and happier for overcoming such challenges. We have an amazing life and I wouldn’t change a thing about her or the path we have taken.”
We were blown away by Aimee and Lila’s story, and were so honored to be able to meet these two lovely ladies and surprise them with something extra special. Thanks for letting us be a part of your day, ladies!
And, as a reminder, we’re currently collecting nominations for our next round of Project Frilloon, so send in your submissions by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org! We want to hear more of your stories and be able to bless more deserving people in our community the way we were able to bless Aimee and Lila! So, send in stories of friends, neighbors, or co-workers who are impacting the community around them through their generosity and strength. We loved reading through your submissions last month and can’t wait to hear more stories of the incredible people in our area!