Posted by JF&CS

Kid's Connection Corner chalk art.

The mother of a new participant in Kid's Connection Corner (KCC) wrote a beautiful thank you letter to Nicole Casty, the JF&CS donor who founded the program. Kids' Connection Corner is a free program that provides children with autism ages 10 - 13 the opportunity to participate in creative activities while making friends.

Dear Ms. Casty,

I am writing to thank you for funding the Kids' Connection Corner group run through JF&CS, of which my daughter Haley* has been a part since July 2018. Haley is a joyful and generally happy thirteen-year-old with significant special needs. We have worked hard to find enriching activities that support her, and the KCC group has been pure gold.

My friend told me about the KCC respite group while we sat together at our girls' adaptive dance class. She said that her daughter loved the KCC group, in part because of the fact that the services were so comprehensive. My friend loved the group because it gave her a break and allowed her to spend focused time with her other children.

Although it sounded great, I was concerned that KCC wouldn't work for Haley because her needs are so complex, and she is very low functioning. Haley didn't walk until age three, she spoke her first word at age five, and she suffers from a rare seizure disorder. It was hard to imagine leaving her for three hours with people whom I didn't know, as Haley has severely limited speech, as well as significant cognitive and motor deficits that mean she still needs assistance getting dressed and using the bathroom.

When I contacted Angela Waring to see if the program could accommodate Haley, I was impressed, not only with her organization and professional manner but even more with how she interacted with Haley. She had a cheerful and positive vibe that Haley could sense very quickly.

Despite this, on the first day, I was nervous leaving Haley. She had always had 1:1 aides in school, and I was concerned about how the 1:3 ratio would work. Nevertheless, when I picked up Haley after the first session, she was clearly having a blast. I saw the group in a music session, circled in a horseshoe with Joy, the music therapist, playing a guitar and singing. The kids were bouncing around and having fun on stage.

After I took Haley's hand to walk back to our car, she turned and waved and said "goodbye" to the group several times. Other kids and adults waved and acknowledged Haley, who beamed happily. I knew that she would want to return again, and I knew that leaving her with the group would work. The kids were singing and dancing and enjoying the beautiful warm July weather.

I am so impressed by what KCC offers the public. There is a regular and committed staff who emanates warmth, caring, and patience (which must be in necessarily long supply). They are always focused on the kids, who are each demanding in their own way, but the staff is great in handling and helping all of them.

The group has, in many ways, helped fill a hole in Haley's current education, which is an ABA school for kids with autism, where the majority of her instruction is done in isolation at a desk, away from other students. Haley seemed to be missing the social connections she formed during grade-wide recess games, PE, art, and music class at her former elementary school.

At KCC, Haley benefits from similar enriching activities along with stimulating and fun social interactions. The group has the perfect amount of structure and just-right activities (dance, music, arts and crafts, making bird-feeders, slime, playdoh, etc.) to allow the kids to be happy and connect with others. Haley has made friends with two other girls from KCC, and all three now participate in a weekly adaptive dance class, which enables their bonds to grow even deeper. (We learned about this awesome JAM dance class from Angela, who arranged for the director to run a free class during one of the KCC sessions.)

In addition, it truly is a gift for us to have her so well cared for away from home. Many special needs parents talk about the challenge of having time at home uninterrupted by the constant needs of their children. KCC is not only a gift to Haley but also a gift to her family. I treasure the free time I use to recharge and to be more present for my older daughter and husband.

Thank you for creating such an amazing program. It has made our entire family's life so much better. Haley is happy and enriched and learning. My stress levels are lower and I can relax and breathe calmly for a few hours and focus on our upcoming week and be a better mom. Know that we are so grateful that you created KCC. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We are your biggest fans!

To learn more about KCC, visit our Kids' Connection Corner page.

*Name changed to protect privacy.