GAITHERSBURG – Last week the Jones Lane Elementary School Parent Teacher Association sponsored “Ability Awareness Week,” a week-long series of presentations to the student body by speakers with different physical and mental handicaps. The presentations were intended to demonstrate to the students that people with disabilities can still live productive and fulfilling lives.
Luis Carlos Montalvan, a former U.S. Army Captain who served two deployments in Iraq and was awarded two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and the Army Commendation for Valor before his discharge in 2007, spoke on Wednesday. Montalvan walks with a cane and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)
“Coming home from the war was in many ways more challenging than the war itself,” Montalvan said. “Recovering from the effects of war is something that’s consumed much of my time, along with trying to help others with their own healing processes.”
Montalvan’s service dog Tuesday, a professionally trained golden retriever, accompanied him on Wednesday. For more than six years, Tuesday has provided Montalvan with practical and emotional support. The dog can fetch needed objects, provide balance for Montalvan when he descends a staircase and respond to shifts in his mood, including waking him from a nightmare. Montalvan published his first book, “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retreiver Who Saved Him”, in 2011.
Last year, Montalvan published another book, “Tuesday Tucks Me In”. Written for younger readers, the book describes a day in Montalvan’s life from Tuesday’s point of view. Montalvan and Tuesday, who live in Manhattan, have been interviewed on national television and have toured regularly over the last three years.
“The most rewarding part of the experience is hearing personal stories from people,” Montalvan said. “I love to hear them describe how much one of the books meant to them, how it may have improved the relationship they have with their child. A teacher will send us a note saying their kids love it, that it’s their favorite book.”
In his presentation, Montalvan spoke in front of the entire student body about his mutually beneficial relationship with Tuesday and read “Tuesday Tucks Me In.” He tossed aside his cane and Tuesday quickly retrieved it, bringing applause from the students. After the speech, students lined up to meet Montalvan, get copies of the book signed and pet Tuesday.
“He’s such an exuberant, happy soul,” Montalvan said of Tuesday. “It’s infectious. His happy spirit has really influenced my own and lessened many of the effects of PTSD. He’s helped motivate me to get better.”
“We are so honored that Captain Montalvan came to visit our school,” said Stacy Kravitz, a member of the Jones Lane PTA and the Ability Awareness committee. “Our students were able to see firsthand how a service dog can help someone with a disability live a more productive and independent life. We want our students to learn that those who live with disabilities are special and unique with valuable gifts to offer. We hope the activities of the week encourage the kids to advocate for and accept those who have learning or emotional differences and physical disabilities.”
Montalvan and Tuesday spoke at several other Maryland schools in the following days.