“Hands On Development” is a new program that is running during the month of July in Vernonia. The program is designed to assist developmentally disabled children during their summer break from school.
“Our mission is to provide summer camp activities for kids who need structure and routine in the summer,” says Eric Urban, one of two teachers that are helping with the program this year. Urban is the Special Education teacher for the Vernonia School District. The other teacher helping with the Hands On Development program is Diane Martin, an in-home autism consultant with NW Autism & Ability Services in Clatskanie, who has worked in the past as an elementary Life Skills Instructor for the Clatskanie School District.
“A lot of kids with disabilities rely on routine and highly structured activities and when they don’t have that, certain behaviors can come out,” said Urban during a recent visit to the program.
The day camp atmosphere at Hands On Development provides just the types of activities that are needed, including social skills, story time, arts and crafts, and play time. The program meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 12:00 to 3:00 PM after the Summer Meals Program at the Grace Family Fellowship Church. Children must attend with an adult to take part in the program.
“We’re really pleased that we’ve been able to dovetail our program onto the Summer Meals Program,” says Urban. “That has been a fantastic resource for us, with lunch, and they are also providing an afternoon snack for us as well. And the church has just been great in letting us use their space and their yard for play time; they have really made it possible for this to happen.”
Jeana Gump, the mother of a developmentally disabled child, was the originator of the idea for a summer camp type program. “Every summer with Savannah was getting harder and harder,” explains Gump, about her motivation for starting the program. “By the end of last summer I was thinking that we were going to have to move away from Vernonia and find a place that had a year round school for her. As soon the school year ended she would lose her structure and just fall apart. But we didn’t want to leave Vernonia; we love it here.
Instead Gump was encouraged to start her own program and after talking with Urban about the possibility, starting actually looking into the reality of starting something from scratch. Funding for the program came from the estate of a friend of a friend who recently passed away and had heard about the program before she passed and wanted to help. “She gave us $3,000 in April and on Mother’s Day she passed away,” says Gump. “We have a little angel.”
Gump found help from local 501(c)(3) Hands On Art who has provided financial pass-through assistance for the program.
Urban says the program focuses on learning skills including reading, listening, and sign language skills. Art projects provide development of fine motor skills. Music and dance will also be incorporated into the program this summer.
The program is also open to friends and family of developmentally disabled children which helps with learning social skills including personal space boundaries and working in groups. “Having typically developing kids involved in the program is fantastic for modeling and social skills and integration of kids into the community, which is another important part of our program,” says Urban. “A lot of times people with disabilities don’t get incorporated into the community. This provides more community exposure and helps them become more integrated into the community.”
Urban says that one of the other benefits of the program is the opportunity for parents to meet and socialize. “This could build into a support network for the parents and help give them ideas.”
Gump says she sees a tremendous difference in Savanah this summer while the program has been going on. “It’s like night and day from last summer,” says Gump. “She has things to do that are geared towards her. She sleeps at night now. And it gives her kids to play with. Savanah will never be an easy child, but we can get through a day without all of us ending up in tears.”