Easter Seals Arc of Northeast Indiana has two new programs this summer designed for teens with disabilities.
One program is called the Dream Teen. It offers caregivers and teenagers a place to interact with other teens as well as enrichment experiences in the community. The other program, J-Top, or Job Training Opportunity Program, targets those with developmental disabilities between the ages of 14 and 21. Individuals in that program are prepped for job placement in the community, and given internship opportunities.
Things have been running very smoothly, said transitions supervising caseworker Danielle Lyons; the response from parents has been enormous.
On Thursday morning, Teens in the Dream Teen program were learning Taiko, or Japanese drumming. The exercise was led by Allison Ballard and assisted by Brittney Coughlin of the Dance Collective.
The teens were using balance balls on platforms to act as drums. The idea is to work on hand-eye coordination and memory skills and get an upper-body workout at the same time. Some of the teens had their own assistant to help them, while others paired to share one. The assistants gently guided the participant to help them pick up on the concepts. For some of the kids, remembering to straighten an arm or just soloing on their own presented a learning opportunity.
June 11 was the first day for the Dream Teens; 45-48 teens are at the camp, which ends Aug. 10. A few, those who have finished high school, will continue in the fall.
“The outings have been very successful,” said Lyons.
They have gone to the library, the parks, Three Rivers Festival, a safari zoo camp, pet shops, batting cages, the art museum, Lifetime Sports Academy, bowling and will be going to Pokagon State Park in August.
The program is split in two groups: lower and higher functioning. The lower-functioning group will go out in the community every day on field trips, come back for lunch, then go back out. The higher-functioning group stays in the building and has a set schedule that includes computer lab, junior achievement, arts and crafts, how to dress for an interview, and some exploring for colleges. The program also includes guest speakers and instruction on basic first aid. This week, the youth group from Fellowship Missionary Church has been working with the kids.
Jessica McBride, Arc's director of community support, said in the past the youth group has gone overseas but this year the church decided to help them gain a better understanding of kids with special needs. It has been very successful and they are planning a barbecue at the end of August.
McBride said by educating kids about children with special needs they hope to lower the number of bullying incidents that children with special needs encounter. Arc would like to develop an anti-bullying plan to take to the school systems.
J-Top program has 15 employers signed up to take on kids. So far 40 kids are signed up for the program, and of that number 20 have been placed so far.
“It has been very successful. We are gaining more businesses to take the other children,” McBride said.
McBride said they are hoping real jobs might eventually come out of these volunteer positions.
Arc will be continuing its programs into the fall. The Dream Teens will have an after-school program, 2-30-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, starting a week after the camp closes. There are also plans for another meeting with parents to figure out the need for the fall camp.
“It's a really great feeling to leave work every day and know that the kids and the parents are happy. I overheard a child tell his mother he had the best day of his life,” Lyons said.
“We have kids who are not verbal who have really come out of their shells,” McBride said.
They even have a boy and girl who are now calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend, McBride said, and their parents are taking them around on dates.
“This program has turned a lot of these kids into social butterflies,” McBride said.