Kindness for youth with special needs

  • By TAYLER SHAE and BECKY ROTH For the Juneau Empire
  • Sunday, July 1, 2018 11:36am
  • Neighbors

Embedded within the mission and vision of R.O.C.K. Juneau (Raising Our Children with Kindness), is the intention to build a community where kids are loved, equipped and empowered.

To equip and empower (and love!) kids in Juneau, we need to build equity based structures, strategies and efforts to resources, so that each young person has access to the supports needed for a healthy childhood and adolescence. This means inclusive play, learning and employment opportunities for kids and youth with physical and behavioral disabilities.

Juneau has a number of exciting, inclusive efforts and partnerships that are truly making a difference in all of our lives, and especially the lives of kids and families living with challenges (and joys) of special needs.

The rebuild of Project Playground at Twin Lakes, a collaboration between the community and the City and Borough of Juneau will have enhanced safety and accessibility with exciting new play components and surfaces. The Contractor portion of the build continues through July, with community volunteers scheduled for Aug. 8-12. If you’re interested in helping or donating coffee and snacks, please reach out to:

Integrated and inclusive summer opportunities for summer fun and camps are being offered through partnerships between the CBJ, Zach Gordon Youth Center, The Canvas at REACH, Inc. and SAIL, Inc.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Disability Employment Initiative are supporting a program called Youth Employment in the Parks, YEP. This program is one great example of the power of partnerships: for first-time-employed high school aged youth, CBJ and SAIL have partnered to offer paid work supporting CBJ Parks and Rec staff in maintaining parks and trails around Juneau. YEP also offers youth soft job skills support, like building a resumé.

“I really like working outside. I’m now interested in finding a career in the outdoors,” said Savannah Strang, 18.

“This job has really helped me open up to people and make friends,” said Shane Paul, 16.

This fall, the Juneau School District is launching a new opportunity for students in partnership with Bartlett Regional Hospital and REACH, Inc. Project SEARCH is a one year long Transition-to-Work program for older high school students with special needs, offering a supported work-exploration immersion experience at Bartlett Regional Hospital. The intended outcome is competitive employment for students who might otherwise not have the work readiness skills to be productive and reliable employees.

Juneau also celebrates some amazing 2018 State Track Championships from the Unified Sports Teams. Will Weinleader and Jacob Rosenbruch (TMHS) won first place in men’s shot put, with Gabe Cannon and Lance Fenumiai winning second place (JDHS). Brianna Fallis and Gretchen Neal (JDHS) winning 100 meter dash, and long jump was won by Brianna Fallis and Ashleigh Neal (JDHS). Congratulations to all! Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

Juneau is improving in awareness and intention to build a more inclusive community for individuals of all ages and abilities.

R.O.C.K. Juneau’s efforts will continue to support systems and families to raise inclusive-minded, healthy kids and teens. We need to continue our focus on investing in robust early learning opportunities for all young kids to minimize supports needed later for academic and social success. We need to continue to build engaging, safe and skilled afterschool opportunities for our youth.

Let’s lean in (not lean back) to building a Juneau community that is inclusive and accessible to everyone, where everyone belongs and enjoys a full life.

“A lot of different flowers make a bouquet.” — Muslim proverb

• Tayler Shae is the Early Literacy Outreach Coordinator with AEYC and Becky Roth is the coordinator for R.O.C.K. Juneau. They can each be contacted at R.O.C.K. Juneau (Raising Our Children with Kindness) is a monthly column that continues the kindness celebration by hosting a Year of Kindness for Kids during 2018.

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