By Nora Heston Tarte
Arizona kids get ready to party! From splash-worthy swim programs to adaptive sports, there’s an activity for everyone to enjoy in the Valley. Local businesses and organizations feature inclusive programs that allow children with special needs to participate in fun and engaging fieldtrips as well as organized sports. Some programs cater exclusively to those with special needs while others boast opportunities for everyone regardless of ability. Read on to learn more about Valley offerings:
Hubbard Swim School:
Bob Hubbard, owner of Hubbard Swim School, counts approximately 90 children with special needs in his weekly swim classes. The classes offered include lessons specifically for children with disabilities as well as inclusive classes, which allow special needs children an opportunity to interact with neurotypical children.
Hubbard credits swimming with helping special needs children feel a freedom they may not get on land due to their disabilities. “A child with special needs may be limited in their activities on land but have great physical freedom and balance in the water,” he explains. “Once acclimated, many of our special needs students progress to mainstream classes.”
Feedback from parents praises the effects of inclusive classes. “As one of our moms said, ‘When my son is in the water the other children do not perceive him as having special needs, he is just one of the kids in the class,’” Hubbard shares.
Phoenix Center for the Arts:
The Center offers a breadth of classes related to art and music both at their location and at local libraries, schools and after-school programs across the Valley. From belly dancing to painting, everything they offer is open to children with special needs.
A girl named Gracie, who participated in a music offering at her school hosted by the Center, is an example of what the Center has to offer children with disabilities.
“Gracie was bound to her wheelchair and had difficulty speaking. Despite these obstacles she was alert and eager to participate. We gave her a maraca and put her in the shaker section of the percussion class,” Laura Wilde, outreach and volunteer coordinator at the Center recalls. “Gracie was able to learn the entire song by listening to the sounds of the notes and receiving visual cues from other students.”
The Center operates with inclusion in mind. They aim to make the arts available to everyone, including those with disabilities. If the desire to learn and participate is there, the Center makes it possible to engage that student regardless of diagnoses.
The facility is ADA compliant, equipped with elevators and nestled in Margaret T. Hance Park. The park is also handicap accessible.
Girl Scouts-Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, Inc.:
Girl Scout programs are fully inclusive. Not only do they allow non-registered Girl Scouts to attend many programs but they include opportunities for children with special needs, as well.
“Our goal is for all girls, regardless of their special needs, to be able to learn and grow from Girl Scout activities. This may require that ‘adaptions’ are made to Girl Scout activities,” says Leandra Huffer, public relations and communications coordinator for Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, Inc.
Abby Prosnier, an ambassador in Troop 653, has been successful with Girl Scouts. Born with Down syndrome, she adapted to Girl Scout traditions by utilizing other skills. In fact, when she first began selling Girl Scout cookies, she used sign language to communicate with customers. In subsequent years she used a computer that would speak to customers for her before gaining the confidence to speak with them directly.
“In the 2011 Cookie Program, Abby was the overall top cookie seller in the council, selling 4,442 boxes of cookies,” Huffer shares. “In 2014, Abby sold enough cookies to earn a beach cruiser, which she gifted to her older sister. Today, Abby is still excelling in Girl Scouts!”
Huffer says Girl Scouts offers the same benefits to all of its members, regardless of needs. All girls who attend can build confidence and courage while learning leadership skills in a girl-led environment. Girls with special needs can take part in this community, which Huffer says offers a safe and accepting space.
“Our summer camp staff and program delivery specialists are trained to take each girls needs into account before beginning a program,” Huffer says. “We train troop leaders to embrace inclusion and diversity within their troops.”
The Maryvale YMCA offers a program called Miracle League specially designed for children with special needs. The school-year program includes swim parties and adaptive baseball. YMCA also welcomes other local organizations aimed at serving individuals with disabilities to use their facilities. The NW Valley YMCA will offer a summer camp program to continue special needs activities during the summer months.
In addition to Miracle League, the YMCA welcomes all children to use their facilities and participate in their programs, including sports. The YMCA also has a resource center available for children to do homework and study. “We at the YMCA want everyone to be involved in what the YMCA has to offer from developing youth, teaching healthy habits and physical fitness,” says Kelly Shingleton, the senior business and program director at Maryvale Family YMCA. “The YMCA is a community where no one is turned down.”
More than 100 children with physical or developmental disabilities participate in Miracle League. An additional 30-50 are served during summer field trips. “The YMCA benefits youth and adults with disabilities by teaching them how to play a sport, they become a part of a team and a community, and developing cognitively and physically,” Shingleton adds.
KEEN Phoenix is a volunteer-led nonprofit that offers free recreational programs for children and young adults with developmental and physical disabilities. During summer months, there are swim and play activities every Saturday at either the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center (VOSJCC) in Scottsdale or the City of Tempe’s Escalante Center. There is also a day camp that pays homage to the Jewish heritage, dubbed Ometz, which is Hebrew for courage, and is also held at VOSJCC.
The camp, which was started last year, offers activities that enhance social, motor, language and other vital life skills for children ages 5-13 with mild to moderate disabilities. Community-based fieldtrips and traditional summer camp activities are offered to groups based on their age and skill level.
“The Jewish Community Center provides us with a fun and safe space for our athletes,” said Coach Alex Sachs, program director at KEEN Phoenix.
While enhancing skills for athletes through adaptive programs, KEEN Phoenix also places an emphasis on promoting greater independence.
“We having a growing participation of special needs because we provide them the ability to be kids and play with their peers in a one to one ratio,” Sachs says. “Our athletes have individualized attention and also get to have group experience all on their terms.”