Lake Norman & Mooresville

Towns join to offer special needs programs

The Cornelius Parks, Arts, Recreation and Culture department and the Huntersville Parks & Recreation together are implementing new special needs programs in 2015 to reach more participants by offering access to varying sports and activities.

In addition to the AngelCare parent’s night out program – a weekly program that provides quality care for children with special needs, camps, sports training events and family events, Cornelius PARC and Huntersville Parks & Rec is adding a preschool and a basketball clinic.

With a trial run of a preschool last summer to determine if it had potential for growth, the two departments chose to implement the preschool program in 2015. The preschool is for children ages 2-6.

Special needs basketball, for ages 5-17, is staffed with volunteers to help participants play and learn the game on Saturday mornings through Feb. 7. The preschool is held on Tuesdays beginning Jan. 20 through Feb. 24.

The programs are designed to accommodate individuals with learning, developmental disorders or delays that hinder their learning ability.

Volunteers of any age older than 13 years old are welcome and will be given a brief training session before each event. The program aims to pair up each special needs child with a volunteer so that attention is focused on each individual child.

Nicole Groth, special needs and recreation programs coordinator at Cornelius PARC, said the sports programs are aimed at participants who don’t have a lot of opportunities to be part of a team.

“It offers great opportunities for participants to meet other special needs children, and it is networking for parents,” Groth said.

Groth said she sees a changes in kids who volunteer for the special needs programs when they begin to learn concepts such as tolerance, patience and compassion – not only for people with special needs but for all people.

Volunteers help and encourage participants to reach their personal goals. They assist with keeping students on a schedule so the program runs smoothly.

“They also learn so much from the other children. They realize that missing one goal is not what it’s all about,” Groth said.

“The volunteers also learn how programs are run, how participants check in, event planning, set up and other ways that help build their resumes.”

The special needs program is still seeking volunteers, Groth said, especially for the preschool program. It is harder to staff, she said, because it takes place during school hours, when many potential volunteers are in high school.

Many volunteers also are needed for the programs that run throughout the year, Groth said. It is also a good way for students to get volunteer hours that some schools require, she said.

Students come to complete their hours but remain as volunteers long after because they love the work they are doing, she said. “We have really awesome students who are very involved. We are a giant family,” Groth said.

“Volunteering is important to me because I enjoy helping,” said Allison Delange, 17, of Concord. “I love it; it is so much fun. It has helped me realize what is important in life – spending time with others.”