Guest Post by Julie Foxx
This past spring, I had the pleasure of attending the Recreation Programs for Individuals With Special Needs Resource Fair at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill, NJ. What an amazing event! There were over 50 vendors present offering everything from a clay-work studio that specializes in serving special needs to summer camp programs to school-work transition programs to respite care and everything in between.
Upon chatting with one of the vendors, I learned that 10 years prior, she was in that same room for the same fair surrounded by only four other vendors. Four! Now they are up to fifty! How cool is that? Heck, when I was a special needs kid there would have been none – it just didn’t exist. Today, there are so many programs available to OUR kids.
Holy Services Batman!
New Jersey has a program called DDD (Department of Developmental Delays) which offers respite carein the form of a “parent’s night out” and also offers a “shadow” for whatever activities your child would like to participate in (like sports, theater, etc). Additionally, anyone registered with the program qualifies for a FREE ADVOCATE!!!
Organize a Fair in Your Town
Putting something like this together may seem daunting, but it’s not. You can absolutely organize a fair like this in your community.
Find a Location
Seek a donation first. If that is not possible, charge the vendors to cover your costs.
Reach out first to people you have personally worked with and that you trust. Ask for referrals for other people in the special needs recreation community. Seek recommendations from your child’s teachers, therapists and friends.
A Safe Haven
The JCC offers this resource fair every other year. They also have a wonderful program (AchD) which offers services to the special needs community ranging from providing a free advocate (shadow) for summer camp to afternoon programs for young adults, dances and other social activities, sports. They also provide religious programming for those who are interested. I almost cried when they described their Passover Sedar. They said it’s a place for us and our children to be safe from judgment. Where our children can spin or roll on the floor or hoot or whatever they need to do without anyone giving them a second glance. It’s a second home for us.
If this doesn’t exist in your community – reach out to your local JCC or YMCA. If one doesn’t exist, reach out to your township. I can’t begin to tell you how good it is to be surrounded by people who not only “get” your child but accepts your child while offering resources, ideas, and support. It’s worth the effort!