"My daughter really enjoys coming to gym buddies. It's nice knowing when I drop her off, she is in a safe place with a supportive staff. She enjoys coming each month - it's on her schedule. It gives me time, us time, my wife and I... to take a breather... it's the needed break after a long weekend sometimes... and she loves coming... it's a win win".
Gary K. Gym Buddies Parent
Gary K. is a parent whose daughter is involved in Gym Buddies each month, a program where elementary school aged kids receive paise and high fives from their peers while playing in an inclusionary gym setting, under the supervision of a Special Education professional. Kids enjoy being mentored by high school students who are interested in working with special needs populations and volunteer their time. The program has the added bonus of giving parents some well needed and deserved respite time. With more than one child to take care of, Mr. K and other parents feel secure knowing they can drop their child(ren) off in a safe and structured place, giving them a break as well. For Mr. K, it's a small timeout from his weekend but he feels good knowing that after a fun afternoon at Gym Buddies, everyone in the family has come back refreshed and ready for the week ahead.
This month’s update focuses on “Saturday Night Chillin”, a monthly program where teens with special needs get to hang out with other teens, enjoy a festive dinner followed by a special group activity.
All of the teens in the program really enjoy the group activities, whether it is slot car racing, a movie night or simply having dinner together. Our teens in the Saturday Night Chillin’ group learn from teen mentors who participate in a unique program called CLASSP (Consortia for Learning and Service to Special Populations – a program that gives high school teens hands on experience working with other teens with special needs).
Our SNC participants gain social skills, language and confidence, helping them to feel comfortable with their peers in a variety of group settings. Whether it is one teen offering advice about dating to another teen, or a discussion about the latest popular movie, our teens are learning from each other. We have also heard from many of our parents how grateful they are to have this opportunity to reconnect with their spouses and get some well needed respite while their children are learning important life skills!
Our teens are committed to each other, learn from each other and are forming relationships and creating bonds that last throughout high school and beyond.
This month’s update focuses on “Rise Above” – an original theater program where kids with special needs can enjoy and show off what they do! Where there is no judgment! Where they are free to be themselves!!
Just last week, we had so much fun performing and dancing to our favorite songs! Students first met as a group and decided that they wanted to dance! Each child picked a favorite song and had to think about how they wanted to add to the message of the song. Rebecca decided she wanted to dance to Bruno Mars’ “Count On Me” to help her explain how she felt when she was with her friends. Students added dance moves that would help “tell” the song and finished it up by creating a dance routine to go along with it. The students acted out the song and added their own creative touches making each performance their own.
The idea, production and direction of the class come from two teenage theater mavens who work with our special education teacher along with our Director of Programs for Enhancing Potential to create stimulating and appropriate curriculum for our students with special needs. The students and the staff are all having such a great time watching the kids learn to act and sing! Of course, it is especially rewarding to see the kids socialize with each other and smile when they "take a bow."
Summer is in full swing at Camp Discovery in Croton! Our Trailblazer campers are successfully mainstreamed into our groups at camp with the support of their very competent Shadows. We have anywhere between 1-4 Trailblazers in each of our groups and they either have their own Shadow or share a Shadow depending on the need of support of the camper. Our Shadows support our Trailblazers in all activities throughout the day making sure they are participating to their ability at sports, dance, theater, art, technology, archery, science, swimming and of course socializing and having fun! The patience and enthusiasm that our Shadows show for their campers is contagious throughout camp. Our Trailblazers range from Pre K - 9th grade and have challenges such as Muscular Dystrophy, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Expressive and Receptive Language Disorder, Auditory Processing Disorder, ADHD and Tourette's Syndrome yet whenever we have visitors at camp, they cannot tell that we even have a special needs component to our camp!
The Trailblazer program at Camp Discovery provides a typcial full day camp experience for kids while allowing their parents to relax knowing that their child's individual needs are being met while they are learning to swim, socialize, make friends and have fun! The Trailblazer program provides a respite for parents who want the child to experience camp but need more support than the average camper. This one-of-kind program enables many of our campers to experience day trips to Eden Village for a first hand farming experience and a NY Mets Game and then overnight trips to Hershey Park and Club Getaway for older campers.
The Trailblazer program also enhances our camp as a kinder, more compassionate and accepting community. One parent of a neuro-typical camper said: “Being at Camp Discovery has made my child a nicer person.” A Trailblazer parent wrote to us exclaiming: “ I am just so thrilled for him, that he can take these kind of emotional leaps is a big deal for him. Yea!!!! He is just thriving!!!!”
One of our very special programs is called Saturday Night Chillin'. This exceptional program offers tweens and teens with special needs a Saturday night out in the community with their peers once a month. We meet here at the RJCC for pizza, pasta and fruit while we socialize and catch up about each other's lives. Then we head out on the JCC bus to a community outing for fun activities such as bowling, slot car racing and miniature golfing. Sometimes we stay at the JCC for games and movie night with make-your-own ice cream sundaes. Saturday Night Chillin' offers these tweens and teens an opportunity for socialization with peers that would not otherwise be available to them. Our participants look forward to coming back each month and their parents love a night out!
Our Trailblazers After School program is going strong and our parent support groups have increased enrollment as well. Our Rise Above theater class for kids with special needs ended for the school year with a fabulous show. It was such a treat to watch them sing "My Favorite Things" and "Getting to know You" among other songs. They had a terrific time on stage and all our particpants rose above their challenges and were shining stars!
We are planning for our programs for the Fall which will include new programs such as several social skills groups for preschool - 5th graders and a Movin' and Groovin' dance class for young adults with special needs. So much to be excited about for special needs programs here at the J!
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