Story by Lindsay Radford
What happens when a child with Down syndrome ages out of after school care, but they aren’t ready to be home alone? It’s a tough question for parents, which is why the Red River Valley Down Syndrome Society
’s answer is a true gift to its families.
The organization is running an After-School/Summer Recreation Program for children and adults with special needs, plus their siblings. “The goal of the program is to help each child and adult build their academic, social and emotional skills or any other skill the person is working on. The difference is we do it in a recreational way,” said Krissy Crites, Executive Director of the Red River Valley Down Syndrome Society.
The Johnny Stallings Recreation Program, which just wrapped up its first year, provides activities and tutoring between 2:30-6:00 on weekday afternoons for anyone between the ages of five through adulthood.
“The adult programs in our community wrap up at 2:00 pm. Some people can go back to their homes, but others faced the same problem our students did,” said Crites. “It wasn’t safe for them to be home alone. That’s when we decided to open the program up to adults, too.”
This ambitious project didn’t happen overnight. It took three years of planning, from buying a building from a local school district, to renovating it, to becoming a licensed child care facility, to laying out the curriculum. The association paid $60,000 for the school building, plus another $130,000 for renovation work.
“We had a lot of help getting it going. There were ups and downs and I shed a lot of tears over it, but it’s a huge benefit for the community,” said Crites. “I’m hoping other organizations would like to see what we offer and say, wow, we can do that. I’m happy to share the plans!”
The center spans 7,300 square feet, includes a recreation room for the teenagers and adults, complete with a pool table, play station, air hockey tables and more. “We wanted to make sure the kids feel like they are teenagers and they are treated that way,” Crites said. “It’s like a club where they can hang out.”
In addition, there is an enrichment room, where the center hosts its cooking, dancing, art and exercise classes throughout the week, providing additional educational opportunities for the students. The perks don’t end there. The center also has a homework room, where students can work with a certified special education teacher.
The cost to parents is $35 per week for the first child, then $20 per week for the second child and $15 for any child after that.
Crites says the success of the program is reflected in the stories she hears from parents:
“We had a young man with Down syndrome, Isaiah, who really struggled with communicating his feelings. For the first three or four weeks he came to the center, he would throw his backpack down and lay on the couch. He wouldn’t participate in the projects, so we’d bring them to him on the couch. He was intimidated to be around all the kids. Then things began to change. His mom told me she had never seen her son so interactive at home. Now he actually hangs out with his siblings and enjoys being social. She said that change was all due to his time at the center.”