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Summit Area YMCA Introduces New Special Needs Programs

Safe & Welcoming Spaces | Susan & Paul's Story Credits: Summit Area YMCA
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It was November 2016 when the first Sundays in Motion event took place in the Summit YMCA. Modeled after the successful Somerset Hills YMCA program, the newly adapted Sundays in Motion event enabled families with special needs children to enjoy 2 hours of free gym play time and supervised swimming in the pool. While simple in concept, the program itself filled a gap within the community that families with special needs children often faced—a lack of safe spaces, places and things to do with their children.

“It might not seem like much to some,” said Paul Kieltyka, President and CEO of the Summit YMCA, “but for others, especially families with special needs children, having a safe, welcoming place to bring their kids to have fun means a lot. Some children—they might be affected by loud noises, certain colors, smells. They might have trouble communicating. It could be any number of things, but certain families can’t just up and go somewhere else for vacation with their kids like other families can. And that’s where the Y comes in. Come here, have fun together, make friends, enjoy the pool. We’re providing a space for people to relax, connect, and be happy. It’s wonderful.”

Having started with three families, the Sundays in Motion program has now evolved to serving over 27 participating families from throughout the area. The program is overseen by Y staff along with caring volunteers, donating their time and company to supervise the safety of the families and children participating. As a member of the Diversity, Inclusion and Global Innovation Network, the Summit Area YMCA is committed to bridge building and encouraging a welcoming atmosphere within the community. The Y is made up of people from all walks of life who are joined together by a shared commitment to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.

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“As kids with special abilities, I am always looking for a place for them to develop better, for them to enjoy and have a good time.” said Carmen, a Sundays in Motion parent of a program participant. “Before the YMCA opened this program, it was more complicated for us to find a place where our kids could have a fun time, where they could have the freedom to play, a place where they would not be seen as kids that don’t fit in. I am deeply grateful with the Y and they enjoy it very much, so it makes me very happy here.”

With the success of the Sundays in Motion program, the Summit Area YMCA has been introducing more new programs and classes geared towards individuals with special needs. From yoga classes to Adaptive Swim Lessons, as well as Friday Night, Friends & Fun teen night events hosted at the Saint Bartholemew Church, the expansion of Special Needs programming within the Summit Area YMCA and its community partners has been met with appreciative and positive feedback.

“Prior to joining the Y we had just moved here. Just the sense of welcoming [at the Y], you know from the minute you come through the door, even down to the people who greeted us immediately, it really struck me as inclusive.” said Susan, parent to a program participant in the Berkeley Heights YMCA’s special needs programs. “[The Y] gives such a great opportunity for him to be around his friends from school and to meet new people. [The programs and classes are] structured so it helps him fit in. He loves doing the Ashrams for Yoga class and would never miss it. He even used his allowance money to buy yoga DVDs, which we do together at home. One of his favorite things recently was the dodgeball night that they had and he still talks about it.”

As a charitable organization, the Y is focused on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.Supporting families and the community in their efforts to spread cultural awareness and appreciation for diversity is core to the Y’s mission to help all people learn, grow, and thrive.

To see Special Needs offerings at the Summit Area YMCA, please visit www.theSAY.org/specialneeds

To learn more about the Diversity, Inclusion and Global Innovation Network, please visit www.thesay.org/dig.

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