A mother sits on a playground bench one early spring day, watching children swing from the monkey bars and squeal with delight. The kids laugh and talk, chase one another around the equipment until they’re breathless and exhausted.It would be a picturesque scene, except for one thing. That mother on the bench also is watching her own child, alone, separated from her peers. And that mother’s heart is broken. Unfortunately, this scene is taking place on playgrounds all over the Lake Norman area. And for parents of children with special needs, it is the reality they face each day. However, the nonprofit Davidson-based organization Angels in Need has made it its mission to provide these children with opportunity and a sense of community in which to blossom. And the upcoming fourth annual Buddy Benefit, hosted by the Buddy System of Davidson College, will feature some of the school’s best a cappella groups while raising money and awareness regarding various disabilities. Angels in Need was started by Shearer Road residents Jeni Cooper and her husband, Lee, after they adopted two special needs daughters from Eastern Europe. Targeting the Lake Norman families of exceptional children as well as the children of the House of Angels in Romania, the organization’s goal is to “enrich the lives of these children and families by supporting already existing programs and organizations devoted to our cause as well as aiding in the development, implementation and financial support of programs where they are non-existent, all in an attempt to provide the children with opportunity and a sense of community in which to blossom.” Local efforts include scholarships for therapeutic camps and programs, an “exceptional moms” support group, an “exceptional peers” program to help foster friendships between special needs kids and their “typical” peers, welcome packages and newsletters. “Parents of special needs kids have so much on their plate,” said Cooper. “They shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel, so we try and have everything they need in one place.” The Buddy Club, a partnership with volunteer students from Davidson College, is another way for these children to build friendships. “Buddies” meet once a week during the school year to play, read, sing or just hang out. Karen Austin’s 7-year-old son joined the buddy program last year. “While most children get invited to birthdays, playdates and participate in organized teams, it is extremely difficult for my child to partake in these activities. Often his mobility hinders his participation and often he just isn’t asked,” said Austin. “With the Buddy program he found a young adult who he can admire and model and who is there just for him. He found a buddy who appreciates him for who he is, has the patience to help him be his very best, and cares for him like a friend.” Judy DeSmedt’s 17-year-old son Jimmy has apraxia and severe learning disabilities. Finding friends was challenging, but the program has been instrumental in building Jimmy’s self-confidence and willingness to reach out to others. “(He’s) made lifelong friends through this program and for that we are forever grateful,” said DeSmedt. Cooper believes that the peers are affected just as much as those with special needs. “People who know these children see the beauty in them and learn so much from them. They go out into the world better equipped to deal with diversity.”
Friday, Feb. 15, 2013
Buddy Benefit in Davidson to raise awareness of children with disabilities
Event is Feb. 24 features singers, speakers
More information Want to go? The fourth annual Buddy Benefit will begin 5 p.m. Feb. 24 at Davidson College’s Duke Family Performance Hall. The evening will feature some of Davidson College’s finest a capella groups as well as keynote speaker Dr. Frank Gaskill of Southeast Psych, speaking on Asperger’s syndrome, and Melody Rain, a young adult with Asperger’s, who will be reading her original poetry. Tickets are no charge, but donations will be accepted at the door. For information, go to www.angelsinneed.org.