Elks poster children

Out of the hundreds of families considered, twins Jayden and Peyton Nielson were selected as the California-Hawaii Elks 2015 Theme Children, and as such will raise awareness of the Elks in general, and the California-Hawaii Elks Major Project, Inc. (CHEMPI) in particular.

The last time a theme child was selected from the Mountain Area was in 2006, when a girl with cerebral palsy from Coarsegold was chosen.

The Nielson twins, former North Fork residents, were born Nov. 1, 2010 in Clovis, and now reside in Friant with parents Melissa and Chris, and older sister, Addysen, 6.

Soon after their birth, the girls developed health problems, and Jayden was ultimately diagnosed with Celiac Disease, severe bone growth delay, failure to thrive, and loss of developmental milestones.

As for Peyton, the pediatrician concluded that she was merely responding to her twin’s symptoms, which resulted in her inability to eat or sleep. It’s known as a twin response, where one twin can feel the other’s pain, even when in another room.

“From a parent’s standpoint, there’s nothing more frightening in the world than seeing your child suffering or declining in health, and knowing there’s nothing you can do to help,” Melissa said.

The twins’ pediatrician recommended prescribed occupational therapy with someone trained in cranial sacral therapy. Without this early and continuing therapy, there was minimal chance for normal development.

The girls’ maternal grandmother knew exactly where to turn for help. Her brother had received services through CHEMPI decades earlier, and, as it turned out, those services were provided by Judy Linda of North Fork, who was assigned to treat Jimmy’s severe cerebral palsy.

Thirty years later, occupational therapist, Linda, jumped into action to do what she could for Jayden and Peyton. Supported by the Elks Major Project, she worked with the pediatrician and parents to set specific goals, implementing a program to change the course of Jayden’s poor health and developmental delay.

“At the first visit, Jayden, 11 months, lay limp and cradled in her mother’s arms ... after just one session, her mom reported that she finally slept through the night,” Linda, who has training in cranio-sacral techniques, recalled. “Jayden was able to sit at an eight-month level, but had no organized movement beyond that. Her digestion was poor, she cried a lot, and was very clingy. Because of Jayden’s extensive needs, Peyton was left out sometimes, and had issues as well.”

“Over the next three years, the twins were fostered through every developmental step,” Linda continued. “With therapy, they can now accomplish goals they would never have achieved otherwise. They’re doing great, and on their last testing, they were both within the normal limits for their fine motor and growth motor development.”

“This has completely changed their lives for the better,” Melissa said. “They had a very poor medical and developmental outlook, especially Jayden, but now, with Judy’s help, they are typical of any child their age.”

Linda will continue to occasionally monitor the case, and will be available for consultations, should issues arise. She said that’s the difference between working with insurance companies, and the Elks.

“The Elks are very generous in how they allow the therapists to run the show,” Linda explained, “instead of insurance companies telling us what to do.”

“The family had no solutions to the twins’ health problems, and the medical bills were running into the hundreds of thousands,” Exalted Ruler of the Oakhurst Elks Lodge George Wright, said. “The Elks are now covering their therapy expenses, working with CHEMPI.”

Jayden and Peyton’s therapy expenses will be covered by the Elks until they turn 18 years of age. More than $3 million annually is raised by Elks members to fund the CHEMPI program.

“These monies come from donations through our members. People just open their checkbooks and write checks,” Wright added. “Every member is also given a purple piggy bank, and once it’s filled, that money is sent to CHEMPI.” (The Elks major project slogan is: A coin a day so they can walk, talk, see and play).

Jayden and Peyton, who will turn 5 in November, are looking forward to attending transitional kindergarten at Spring Valley Elementary. The family is very appreciative of the tremendous help they have received to reach this point.

“All too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind work, a listening ear, or smallest act of caring,” Melissa and Chris said. “The Elks Major Project stands to prove these things hold the power to turn a life around. Our lives are forever changed because of this amazing association. And Judy’s generosity and dedication to the therapeutic needs of our girls has been an immeasurable gift to our family ... for this, we are eternally grateful.”

“Judy is not just our girls’ therapist,” Melissa added. “She’s our forever friend.”


The Oakhurst Elks Lodge will host a spaghetti dinner to introduce the twins to the community and lodge members, Friday, July 24, at the lodge. The bar opens at 4:30 p.m., with dinner at 6 p.m. Cost is $15, and free for children under 10 years of age.

The CHEMPI program funds and hires 32 paid therapists and preschool vision screeners to help disabled children when no other organizations can or will.

CHEMPI, a committee of the California-Hawaii Elks Association (CHEA), addresses the unmet needs of children with disabilities throughout the states of California and Hawaii by developing supportive services at no cost to the families.

The fundraising arm of CHEMPI is the purple pig.

Donations: NOW; or (559) 255-4531.