Going some places around other kids, Melissa Jones’ daughter, Keara Riley, has to deal with them teasing or picking on her.
It’s because she has special needs, and some kids don’t understand.
Jones said her daughter needed a place where she could fit in and be herself. She also needed a bully-free zone that’s safe and has caring people.
She found that in Special Signature Saturday at the Boys and Girls Club of Seymour.
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The new program gives children and young adults with special needs and their parents an opportunity to participate in crafts, play games, interact with special guests and enjoy snacks.
It was conducted Dec. 3 and Jan. 7 and will continue from 10 to 11 a.m. the first Saturday of each month through May.
“We just really enjoy it because she can get out with her friends and not have to worry about the bullying and picking on her,” Jones said.
In December, Keara and eight other kids with special needs had the chance to meet Santa Claus, a snowman and a reindeer and take pictures and play games with them.
This month, games, crafts, activities, snacks and door prizes revolved around a fishing theme. The special guest was Seymour native Meghan Colvin Egloff, who read her children’s book, “Edison’s Tackle Box,” and gave each attendee an autographed copy of her book.
“Oh, I love it. It’s our date day,” Jones said of Special Signature Saturday. “I wish they could do it all of the time.”
Jan Engel of Seymour has a son, A.J., with special needs and decided to create a program since there’s not much for those kids to do in the area.
She’s also a Boys and Girls Club board member and received approval to have the club serve as the host site.
The program received its name because special guests visit each month. Three Boys and Girls Club board members dressed up as the Christmas characters in December, and Egloff served as the special guest this month.
“Basically, we talked about about different people we know, and not one person said no,” Engel said of coming up with the special guests. “They care a lot about the kids, and I think they also recognize the fact that we have a need.”
“Jingle Bell Rock” was the theme of December, and “Going Fishin'” was this month’s theme. The upcoming themes are “It’s All About that Heart,” “I Got the Music in Me” and “Teamwork.”
The activities are designed for everyone to be able to participate. Some involve physical activity.
“One of the things we want is for the kids to get active, to get some exercise because it’s so very important for them,” Engel said.
In designing the program, Engel said she received some pointers from Angie Schepman, a special education teacher with Seymour Community School Corp. She also receives help from Boys and Girls Club program director Brooke Stein and high school students.
“Each time, we’re doing things a little differently as we learn a little bit more about the kids,” Engel said.
For example, a boy who came last month had to leave because the buzzing of the lights inside the Boys and Girls Club bothered him.
“We take that for granted. We don’t realize what those parents are dealing with all of the time. It’s different for every kid,” Engel said. “We are taking some different approaches to try to see if it helps and makes it a little smoother. We’re learning about what is good for the kids. If there’s a kid who doesn’t want to do anything that we’ve got planned and just wants to play basketball, I’m OK with that.”
There is a $5 charge per family to attend, and a parent is required to stay with their child for the hourlong program. It’s open to anyone, not just Jackson County residents.
The cost and length of the program were established after receiving input from parents, Engel said.
There were only four participants at this month’s program, but the winter weather may have prevented some from getting outside, Engel said.
“We’re trying to grow,” she said. “We had nine last month, and I said, ‘I don’t care if we have one kid, that makes a difference.'”
A.J. Engel said Special Signature Saturday has been a good thing for him and other kids.
“I like that my mom does this, and it’s really good for me,” he said. “I feel like the Boys and Girls Club is really good, and I also can come out and visit with my friends. I just think this is a great program.”
What: Special Signature Saturday
When: 10 to 11 a.m. Feb. 4, March 4, April 1 and May 6
Where: Boys and Girls Club of Seymour, 950 N. O’Brien St.
Who: Open to all children and young adults with special needs; a parent is required to stay with their child
Cost: $5 per family
Information: Jan Engel at 812-528-0549