RANDOLPH, NJ- A special raffle basket was awarded to a very deserving family at the Randolph PTO’s (Parent Teacher Organization) annual Ladies Night Out on Mar. 14. It was emotional moment when Nina Potter, whose son Nikolai is diagnosed with Apraxia, won four weeks of summer camp worth $3,500 at Tamarack Day Camp.
The owner of Tamarack Day Camp, Jonathan Gold, attended the PTO event and wanted to personally meet and congratulate the winner of the basket.
"I stood up and nothing came out of my mouth at first," said Potter. "Then I hear some crazy woman screaming her head off and I realize it was me. Then I'm crying and the guy from the camp comes over to me and I'm like 'I don't know if we can do this. My son is special needs.' He just looked at me and held the tops of both of my arms and he said, 'We'll work it out, don't worry,' and that made me cry even more.'"
Potter also called her husband Tim right from the table at the event, crying with happiness.
Tamarack Day Camp is new camp for children ages 3-15, located right in Randolph. The camp has a ton of activities from arts and crafts to biking and swimming, which Nikolai is most excited about. On Sunday, March 9, the camp held an open house for interested families. The Potters went to see the camp where Nicolai will attend, and loved it.
"We are super-excited to have him at camp. It is why we all have gotten into this business," said Tamarack Director, Terry Castro. " The basket went to someone with such a big heart and so deserving."
Nikolai will be required to have an aid with a special education background, a "one on one" who will shadow him during his day in order to give him a solid routine at the camp. Potter is willing to do whatever it takes for her son to enjoy this experience.
The Potter Family
When Potter was 37, she was having trouble conceiving a child. The doctors discovered a large cyst that consumed one of her ovaries. After surgically removing her cyst and right fallopian tube, Nina tried In Vitro Fertilization treatments which, unfortunately, did not help her with her infertility.
"My initial reaction was to cry," said Potter, "that quickly turned to anger. It was a tough time. Everyone who I knew was trying to put a band-aid on it and just said, 'Just adopt. You can't conceive then just adopt.'"
Potter did not fall so easily into the idea of adoption. Her heart was so set on having a baby of her own that she could not imagine loving a child who was not her biological child. Until one day, she had a conversation with a friend about a company who worked with orphanages in the Ukraine. After doing their own research, the Potters decided that American adoption was not an option for them, and became very interested in adopting a healthy baby in the Ukraine.
"You give them your criteria and they go through all these books and pull out all the profiles they think match your criteria the best," said Potter.
The Potters received profiles of children that were in opposition of what they wanted. The profiles consisted of unhealthy children with disabilities. Weeks later, the Potters found out that the reason those profiles were shown to them was because they were American and the child could have a better life with them considering the advanced medicine in America.
"I didn't see Nikolai's profile because I was so distraught by these other profiles,” said Nina. "I did not want to go visit Nikolai because I thought it would do damage to both of us. As I was talking to our team leader, I just said fine. We went to go visit this child that had a lot of problems, but that's not what we saw when we met him. It was quite different."
What they saw was a playful child running around and laughing. The Potters spent the next two hours with Nikolai playing with toys, picking him up and tickling him. The following day, the Potters visited Nikolai once more and realized they had found their son.
The Potters in Randolph
The Potter family moved to New Jersey in December of 2013 to find a better education for their son. Nina’s sister-in-law suggested they move to Randolph because of their incredibly well known school system. Nikolai now attends Center Grove Elementary School, and his transition has gone rather smoothly.
"We were shocked," said Potter. "We were bracing for the worst because this was a huge change, and now we can barely identify any step back for him. Of course it impacted him in a good way."
Nikolai was adopted when he was four and a half years old. He is now seven. The Potters moved in search of the best learning programs that were not supplied to them in Florida. At Center Grove, Nikolai goes to occupational and physical therapy classes.
"He does a hundred times more physically challenging things at Center Grove than he ever did in Florida. The key to unlocking Nikolai's brain, to get him to speak is making him do motor planning all day long."
Apraxia is the inability to perform movements, despite having the desire and physical capacity to perform those movements. Motor planning executes those movements in the correct sequence from beginning to end.
Nina believes that Center Grove has helped Nikolai with motor planning. Currently, Nikolai can say seven words. He just learned how to say "me" and Nina believes that the teachings at his new school have contributed to him learning a new word. One of Nikolai’s words is mama. Nina’s goal is to get him to say “mommy.”
"I'm still working on mommy,” said Potter. “He can say ‘me’ now and he can say ‘ma.’ I’ll keep trying and trying. It may be another six to eight months but I'll get him to say mommy."
Nikolai will also need to attend summer school to continue to catch up in school, but all of those details will be worked out. Either way, everyone is happy that he will be having a fun and new experience this summer in Randolph at camp.
Potter expressed, "I thank god every day for sending us on the path we were forced to travel. Our path had some mighty low lows and some incredibly high highs. And we would not change a single thing."