All children, regardless of ability and disability should have the opportunity to engage in meaningful recreational activities with their peers. The child using a wheelchair, the child with a seizure disorder and the child who requires hand-over-hand assistance in completing all tasks can attend the programs offered at Aaron’s Acres. No child is ever turned away. Aaron’s Acres can accept everyone because it has nurses on staff as well as a low staff-to-child ratio (1:1 or 1:2). In addition, the supervisory staff is comprised of professionals (usually special education teachers) who have the knowledge and experience in working with this population.
Monthly programs are held during the school year and a camp program is offered during the summer. Going to Hershey Park, bowling and miniature golfing are just a few of the outings that the older participants (ages 13-21) do during the school year. The younger group (ages 5-12) has dinner together, and then they participate in a variety of activities focusing on building and strengthening socialization and communication skills. Engaging in “typical” activities with their peers while having the appropriate support as needed is what Aaron’s Acres focuses on throughout the year. During the summer, participants visit a therapeutic riding center, participate in fitness activities, swim daily, create craft projects, partake in music therapy, and visit with a petting zoo, reptiles and watch an entertainer and a ventriloquist.
The team at Aaron’s Acres often hears, “So, you run a summer camp for kids with disabilities… they must have so much fun!” Yes, Aaron’s Acres has an awesome summer camp program, but it also has monthly programming during the school year. And while the participants have fun, program is so much more!
Picture a child creating an art project using glue, pom-poms, construction paper, markers, pipe cleaners and googly eyes. Throughout this activity, the child is working on his fine motor skills. Running, jumping, and throwing or kicking a ball are all gross motor activities that participants do while they are having fun. Staff can support and assist each child’s ability to engage in these gross motor activities. For the child who doesn’t communicate verbally, he can participate in music therapy with the group and play a musical instrument or dance with a colorful streamer as the music plays along in the background. For the child who uses a wheelchair, staff might support the child on each side (when out of the wheelchair) and help her complete an obstacle course or assist in moving her legs and arms to complete the assigned exercises.
One group that meets during the summer is A-TEAM. This group is comprised of adolescents, ages 13-21, with high functioning Autism. Their activities focus on team bonding and collaborative experiences. A few examples include building a boat out of cardboard and duct tape, going kayaking or learning how to scuba dive. Aaron’s Acres has the time, the patient staff, and the supportive environment to allow these experiences to result in positive memories for everyone!
The Aaron’s Acres Acts of Kindness Program (AAAOK) allows older participants to engage in service projects within the local community. Giving back to others and knowing that each person can make a difference in someone’s life occurs during this program for our participants. Running an Alex’s Lemonade Stand or playing bingo with residents at a nursing home are just a few of the projects that this group has done in the past. The Acts of Kindness program often results in a sense of confidence and increased self-esteem as the participants are helping others, rather than being seen as recipients of services.
Aaron’s Acres is most fortunate in that it has been involved with Gifts That Give Hope for quite some time. The support that it has received over the years has helped to fund programs and ensure that it can continue to provide meaningful programs to children and young adults with varying disabilities. In addition to receiving funds, GTGH events provide so many opportunities to network and interact with the community. Relationships and connections are made with other non-profit organizations as well as individuals and result in increased awareness of Aaron’s Acres. Aaron’s Acres loves sharing stories with families looking for volunteer opportunities; having a young person visit the table and ask about programs is one of the highlights of the day. Because this event is usually around the holidays, often families allow their children to decide which organization they would donate to after they have asked questions to several non-profits. This event educates young people (as well as adults) which benefits the entire community! The team at Aaron’s Acres is most grateful that this event exists within our community.
Learn more about Aaron’s Acres at aaronsacres.org.
Visit the Aaron’s Acres blog at https://aaronsacres.org/news-events/blog/.