It all started when a Warren couple made the courageous decision to adopt two orphans from Russia. Twelve years later, these once-neglected babies are now young ambassadors for mental health throughout Michigan.
Gabby and Duncan Smith, though not biologically related, share a very similar life story.
Both were born in Russia and both ended up in an orphanage -- and both were adopted by a Warren couple determined to bring the babies to a better place.
"We have no clue what our kids went through for the first few months, and they don't know," says Laurel Smith. "That's hard, not to know how people treated your children before they became yours."
Gabby, especially, required a lot of care because she was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and showed signs of shaken baby syndrome. As the kids grew older, there were temper tantrums, communication struggles and the health issues. The new parents didn't know how to cope.
"As adoptees, there's the trauma of him not having a family for a while, for these two coming from a different country," says Laurel.
Eventually, this family found much needed help from Easter Seals, which has a program specifically designed to help kids who've suffered trauma or chronic stress.
It's called LUNA, which stands for look, uncover, nature, act.
"They suggested other things to do here at home like, we have fish tanks, we have a dog, which is basically our daughter's therapy-type dog. We have cats; our son loves cats. And so he has a fish tank in his bedroom. When he wakes up in the middle of the night he can watch the fish just swimming away," says Laurel.
Laurel says that through therapy, the kids have shown huge improvements.
"There have been times when Duncan would come home and just be flat out, you know, upset. Now he can come home say, "I really felt like telling that kid off but I decided not to,'" Laurel says. "And if he still has anger, depending on how upset he is, he can either build LEGO, he can do a video game, or he can punch the heck out of a punching bag."
Experts say it's so important to help young people deal with this stress and trauma before it turns into adult problems, like drug use or depression.
Wondering how you can help? Easter Seals of Michigan is having a "Walk With Me” event at the Detroit Zoo this Sunday, August 7. Registration is at 7:30 a.m., and you can walk a mile with Gabby and Duncan and other ambassadors to raise awareness and funds!
For more information go to www.eastersealsmichigan.com