The Power of Play- A local Accessible Playground

It’s been a really long time since I’ve done an Accessible Playground! Today I’m going to talk about Stait Park, a brand new accessible playground in my community! For those of you who have been here for a while, you’ll have heard all about this playground and it’s history.. for those of you who are new here, you can read about all of that here:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Power-of-Play-Fergus/295596937215071

Anyway, the playground opened a few months ago (actually while I was at camp) and I’ve been able to spend some time there. I’m honestly so impressed with how the playground turned out. It’s amazing. So much better than I ever could’ve hoped. It’s impressive.

The amount of thought and work that went into this playground is extremely obvious.

Small slides

Small slides

Tunnel- Awesome for a quick sensory break

Tunnel- Awesome for a quick sensory break

More Braille!

More Braille!

One of those twisty spin chairs- super fun!

One of those twisty spin chairs- super fun!

Jake trying out the rope ladder

Jake trying out the rope ladder

Braille Board!

Braille Board!

The bigger part of the playground

The bigger part of the playground

This is one of my favourite features.

This is one of my favourite features.

TOTALLY accessible!

TOTALLY accessible!

Jake trying out the Pirate Ship Rocker

Jake trying out the Pirate Ship Rocker

Jake practicing his sign.

Jake practicing his sign.

Also, note the rubber ground as opposed to gravel. This stuff is super. Makes pushing wheelchairs so much easier and makes falls hurt a lot less. It’s also super bouncy.

Picture Symbol Board!

Picture Symbol Board!

Sign Language Board

Sign Language Board

This playground is totally amazing. I have some more pictures of the full park but I can’t find them right now. I’ll update this post with them once I find them! I would highly recommend checking out this playground if you’re in Centre Wellington! It’s located on the corner of Garafraxa St W and Provost St.

Thank You!!

I just wanted to take a little bit of time to send out a HUGE thank-you to all of you who are a part of this absolutely amazing community. I know that my blog/Facebook page is from a bit of a different perspective than most and I am so honoured by how easily accepted I was into this community.

The community and friends that I’ve made over this past year through the blog and Facebook page are connections that I could not be more thankful to have made. I greatly appreciate all of the support and advice that you all have given me, it has helped me immensely in creating the best programs I can for the people I support. I take everything you guys say into serious consideration and use all of your suggestions. Thank you. 

In exciting Facebook page news, we hit 310 personal page ‘likes’ tonight! Plus about 200 other page ‘likes’! That is pretty fun! Thanks to everyone who thinks that I have something worth sharing! I appreciate it! 

I can very proudly state that the Special Needs communities I am involved in (both online and my local community) are the best communities out there! Thank you so much for all of your support! 

Special Hockey Practice in the morning so that’s all I am going to say for tonight! 

If you haven’t checked out the Facebook page yet, go give it a look and join in on the conversation!

https://www.facebook.com/storiesfromthesandbox

The end of September…

So, the first month of post-camp time is over. Phew. I have been quite busy with school, respite and Special Olympics. We’ve had some exciting things happen in our Special Olympics Community that I’m going to share with you today. But first, I’d like to acknowledge a few things something that happened during the month of September. I tried to steer clear of talking about this on the blog/facebook page because it is both heart-breaking and very controversial and it’s a conversations I’d much rather have in real-life. 

Issy Stapleton. Since I’m fairly positive that almost everyone in the Special Needs Community has heard a heck of a lot about this story I’m not going to go through and explain it. For those of you who don’t, here’s a link to an article: http://www.autismspeaks.org/news/news-item/autism-speaks-responds-issy-stapleton-tragedy

Now, I’m really not going to weigh in on this situation. I don’t want to get into it. I just thought that it was important to acknowledge that this is a real tragedy. A real tragedy that really happened. I want to ensure that people continue to keep Issy and the Stapleton family in their thoughts. This is a situation that is extremely difficult on the entire family. And that is all I have to say on that.

I also just wanted to do a quick thank-you to everyone who shared the information about Cody, the boy in my town who went missing. He has been located and he is safe. 🙂

Now some fun information about my local Special Olympics program (https://www.facebook.com/GuelphSpecialOlympics)!! This SUPER exciting thing happened where Guelph will be hosting the 2016 Spring Games Provincials!! Woo! We have such a great community here and we are so excited to be hosting these games! They are going to be a lot of fun. Last week we had our annual Sports Banquet. All of our local teams gather together to celebrate the last season with dinner, awards and a dance. The Sports Banquet this year was super fun. Being the Head Coach of our adapt aquatics program I had the honour of presenting the Sportsmanship Award (Congrats, James). All of our athletes were very deserving of their awards and a great time was had by all! The dance was definitely a highlight for most. One of our athletes also doubles as a DJ so he did the dance. 

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My “brother” Ryan, graciously accepting his award.

As many of you, I have completely re-done our Adapt Aquatics program. We’ve implemented it three times now and it is going really well. I have a great group of coaches and volunteers, an amazing group of athletes and some super parents and caregivers. This has really helped with a smooth transition into the new program for all of our athletes. We have a really fun season ahead of us! Go Phantoms. 

Another amazing summer and the start to an exciting year.

For those of you who don’t know, I work at camp for children, youth and adults with Different Abilities. Belwood Lodge and Camp, is by far my most favourite place in the world. There is so much I could say about it but I won’t bore you with all of it. Just go check out the website and you can read all about it’s amazingness. I am honoured to say that Belwood has realistically changed my life immensely. Belwood helped me to confirm where and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and it’s taught me so much. Belwood provides and amazing vacation experience for some really great people who otherwise wouldn’t get one. I have met some of my best friends at Belwood and the relationships I’ve made there are unlike any other relationships I have. I am forever thankful for the experiences camp has given me. Now, the 2013 summer season has come to an end and it was a really great summer. I’m sad that it’s over, but the rest of this year is a super exciting one!

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I’ve completely re-done our local Special Olympics swim program (using a lot of the advice you guys gave me- thanks!) and I think it’s going to rock! I’ve gathered a group of coaches who seem really interested and excited about the program which is a HUGE plus. I have a lot of faith in my program and coaches and I think it’s going to be an amazing swim season. I really think our athletes are going to love it.

I’ll also be coaching the Guelph Giants again, my super awesome Special Hockey International team. That’s super exciting. SHI is an amazing organization and I’m so thankful to be involved with it. You can read all about how I feel about SHI here.

I am continuing with my DSW studies this fall and should be done in May. This is also exciting.

All in all, it’s going to be great year.

Reflections.

It’s been just over two years since I travelled to Nicaragua. That’s nice and scary. It’s weird to think about all of the different things that have changed since then and the decisions I’ve made.

But, what I’ve been giving a lot of thought to lately is, the Blue Bird House in Nicaragua. I haven’t really shared to much about it as it was quite an overwhelming experience. Since it’s been just over two years, I’ve decided to share some more about it.

The Blue Bird House is a group home of sorts. It’s more of an institution. Visiting the Blue Bird House while I was in Nicaragua was something that was very important to me. Obviously, I’m very connected to the Special Needs community and I really wanted to see what it’s like in a less fortunate country.

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Honestly, I was worried.

I really didn’t know what to expect. I’ve read so much about orphanages and institutions  that I was really worried about what I was going to see. I was (pleasantly) surprised. Now, the conditions of the Blue Bird House were nothing compared to something you’d see in Canada, but they also were much better than the conditions I was expecting. They were extremely understaffed and their ratios were nothing like something you’d see here,  we’re talking a good 1:14 ratio including some individuals who were very high needs. These ratios can make it extremely difficult to adapt programming and attention.

I just love this guy.

I just love this guy.

The Blue Bird house supports individuals of all ages, starting as children all the way through to adulthood. The Blue Bird house supports people of all abilities. When I visited, most of the younger children were in school which is very uplifting. That’s not often something you see.

The individuals with Higher Needs had an area catered to their specific needs

The individuals with Higher Needs had an area catered to their specific needs

The staff who worked at the Blue Bird house really seemed to have a passion for what they were doing which is absolutely amazing. They really seemed to care about the people they were supporting.

The Blue Bird was very interesting. They had daily programming as well as an ARC Industries type area where they would make different items to sell in art shows or at markets. They also had a kitchen where they would bake and sell goods. The inclusion that we saw was so cool!

"ARC" like area

“ARC” like area

There were different sections to the property. A main area, including a dining area, a gym type centre for PT and a section for the individuals they support who require a high level of care. There was then a female building that had multiple beds in one section and then a large area with tables for meals and daily activities. Across the grounds there was another similar building but for males. Between these buildings there was an outside area that had playground equipment and benches. The design of the place was very forward and open which was so nice to see. There were some parts of the Blue Bird house that were really hard to see, as much as the conditions were much better than I expected, they were still rough. I strive to provide the best that I can for the people I support and I found it very difficult to be in an area were there was just so much that I wanted to do, but couldn’t.

PT area

PT area

 

A wheelchair in Nicaragua..

A wheelchair in Nicaragua..

 

A kind young man having some swing time on the grounds

A kind young man having some swing time on the grounds

I had the chance to interact with many of the individuals who lived at the Blue Bird house and man, they rocked!

This guy was hilarious.

This guy was hilarious.

Visiting the Blue Bird house was a major highlight for me and I’m so glad I got that experience.

I was also blessed with the opportunity to give the Blue Bird house a collection of new clothing protectors and provide a large amount of the people they support with Camp shirts. The group that I went with, Kn.e.c.t, also gave the Blue Bird house a monetary gift. What an awesome experience. This is a place I really want to go back and visit.

Donations

Donations

I will be posting more pictures of the Blue Bird house over on the Stories from the Sandbox Facebook Page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stories-from-the-Sandbox/252057948257316

What every Community needs.

As many of you know, I am a very big advocate for local programs. Today, I want to tell you about a local program that I am absolutely honoured to be a part of, a local program that every single community needs. I’ve spoken of this program before but not in a lot of detail. I’ve been attempting to write this post for weeks now but this program is just so amazing, I often find myself lost for words when I attempt to speak of it. This program is: Community of Hearts.

Community of Hearts (CoH) is a program founded by three pretty cool people. Susan Wahlroth (the mother to a pretty awesome young man I’ve had the pleasure of working with at Camp, Swimming, CoH etc.), Jason Dudgeon (an Educational Assistant for twelve years amongst other things) and Andrea Kretz (a Special Education teacher). These guys saw a need for more programs for individuals with disAbilities, increased wait-lists and funding cuts are making hard to give individuals with Special Needs the support they deserve and need. CoH is a not-for-profit organization based out of Guelph, Ontario. They offer three different program areas that cater to the increased needs of people with Special Needs in our community.

The three program areas they cover are; the Educational Day Program, the Social Network and Cottage Crashers.

The Educational Day Program or Life Long Learning Centre is one of the neatest parts of the organization (in my opinion). It focuses on, exactly what it says, Life Long Learning. More often than not, individuals with Special Needs graduate out of the school system and are moved into programs where they don’t continuously use and further the skills they’ve learned through High School. The Life Learning Centre allows for a continuation of learning and practical skill practice. CoH focuses on independence and provides and safe and judgment-free learning environment. Learn more about the Learning Centre here: http://communityofhearts.ca/learning-centre/

The Social Network. This aspect of the program is super cool too! CoH organizes various social events throughout the year for individuals with Special Needs in our community, to attend. CoH organizes some pretty sweet dances that are definitely a highlight of the year. I think my personal, all-time favourite CoH dance was the 2013 Valentines dance but the 2013 Summer Rush dance takes a close second. Learn more about the Social Network here: http://communityofhearts.ca/social-network/

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Cottage Crashers, the summer vacation program. The Day Program runs the same schedule as the local School Board so, the summer months are still summer vacation! CoH offers a really neat summer vacation called Cottage Crashers. This is the program that I am least familiar with as I am at camp all summer but, I’ve heard nothing but great things about the program. The Cottage Crashers program was recently featured in Cottage Life magazine. The focus of the program is Life Skills and independence. The participants are actively involved in planning and implementing meals and activities. This is such an amazing way to spend some time during the summer. Learn more about Cottage Crashers here: http://communityofhearts.ca/cottage-crashers/

I am genuinely so honoured and proud to be a part of this amazing program. Every community needs a program like this. (I blog for CoH over on their website too: http://communityofhearts.ca/coh-summer-rush-dance-2013/

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Head over to their Facebook Page and see what amazing things they’re up to, today!

https://www.facebook.com/communityof.hearts?ref=ts&fref=ts

Dolls representing people with Down syndrome

Dolls for people with Down syndrome, or “Dolls for Downs” is a pretty cool organization that makes dolls that resemble the features of people with Down syndrome. This movement was started by the mother of a girl, Hannah, who has Down syndrome. She wanted a doll that looked like her. These dolls can be very empowering for people with Down syndrome. There are different dolls available for order, featuring different, hair, skin and eye colour as well as different genders. There is an option when ordering the doll to have the doll feature a scar on the chest, to resemble the scar that many individuals with Down syndrome have after receiving heart surgery at a young age.  There are also different accessories available for purchase such as; glasses, hearing aids and eventually AFO’s.

I am a little partial to one specific doll, Aziza. Aziza was a little girl with Down syndrome from Toronto, ON who I learned about through her mom’s blog. I’d been following her story for a few months because she was adopted by her family and I am very interested in adopting those with Down syndrome. Sadly, Earlier this year Aziza passed away. Dolls for Downs created a doll in her honour featuring her appearance. I think this is an amazing and beautiful way to commemorate Aziza and her journey.

There is some backlash in regards to these dolls, there are some people who believe that these dolls portray a negative stereotype; all people with Down syndrome look the same and all have the same features. Personally, I LOVE these dolls. I think that they show people with differences that not every doll needs to be “typical” and that anybody is “doll-worthy”. Yes, the dolls highlight the main physical features of people with down syndrome. But, I think these dolls show to the world that it is perfectly okay to have Down syndrome. Different is not less.

Read a Toronto Star article about Dolls for Downs: http://www.thestar.com/life/parent/2013/04/16/dolls_with_down_syndrome_prove_

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Read about Aziza: http://mylittlewarriorprincess.blogspot.ca

Visit the Dolls for Downs website: http://www.dollsfordowns.org/index.html

Picture of the dolls from: http://www.dollsfordowns.org/index.html