Why is it so important to have the dream for tomorrow?
For quite some time, we have been sharing our dreams for tomorrow – our big picture! We know it will happen as so much has occurred within our organization over the 24 years we have been in existence. When we have had these conversations with different groups of people, businesses, foundations, and individuals, the feedback has always been extremely positive. Families that are raising children with disabilities have expressed excitement and even breathed a sigh of relief as their fears for what happens after high school graduation tend to overwhelm them.
Early intervention and then education from kindergarten through high school exists for everyone, regardless of disability. Therapeutic services also exist for that stated time period. Children with disabilities have the opportunity to see their peers and friends every day during each school year. We are all too familiar with the gap in programs during the summer for this population. Some children qualify for ESY (extended school year), however a considerable number of students are home with family members during the summer months. In looking at Berks, Dauphin and Lancaster counties (where we have the most families from), there are a very limited number of camp programs that accept children with varying disabilities. Aaron’s Acres has a 6-week camp program but in no way, are we or any organization meeting the needs of this population completely.
Now, we move onto post high school graduation. For some young adults with disabilities, they secure a volunteer position for a few days a week or even employment for a few days a week. Unfortunately, our Administrative Team hears too often from many of our families whose children have aged out of our programs, that their young adult is sitting at home, engaging in very little if any meaningful activities with their peers. One parent stated, “she wakes up and has no purpose in her life”. Another parent stated, “the school bus stops coming and parents fall off the cliff”. Many of our participants have more challenging medical needs or behaviors or limitations. While the goal would be for everyone regardless of disability to be employed or volunteer in inclusive settings, the present reality is that is not the case for so many.
As we continue to focus on creating inclusive settings for all, we need to create meaningful programs and activities now for everyone. Our dream for tomorrow is to have meaningful and purposeful activities for individuals, ages 22-30. Creating a community center comprised of fitness classes, yoga, cooking, music, crafts, as well as a café run by our older participants along with a farm (growing vegetables, herbs and flowers) is our dream. Within our building, we would have other non-profit organizations and businesses in which we could partner and collaborate creating a center for all abilities and ages. In addition, our Acts of Kindness program which usually occurs during the summer for our campers ages 13-21 where they participate in community service projects would be expanded for this older group, ages 22-30 and would take place during the year, during the day. Lastly, we would create a “game room—hang out” place for this older group to have so they can informally socialize with their peers, and engage in “typical” activities such as playing air hockey, foosball, have a cup of coffee or a snack and know that they belong and are always accepted.
One other component that would exist in this big picture would be an afterschool program for students with disabilities after 12 years old would exist as they no longer can attend the afterschool day care programs offered at their schools.
In this way, our big picture is addressing the needs of families right now; we can all work towards other dreams (such as inclusivity for all) but while we are working on that, we are responding to what families have shared with us and trying to meet those needs in a timely manner.
As many of you may know, we are looking for a building (preferably 14-16,000 sq. ft. with 6-8 acres) to call “home” and to house our community campus center within Lancaster County. Our goal is to have this building be easily accessible to families living in other counties (we would like to be near Route 30, 283, etc.). We welcome everyone’s assistance in finding this building!
At Aaron’s Acres, we love to dream and we would love to turn these dreams into realities now!