BV Rec is partnering with local nonprofit Achieve, Inc. to provide single-day outings for neurodiverse participants in Buena Vista and surrounding areas.
The first outing, which was held on Saturday, Feb. 25, featured tubing on Dutch Henry Hill in Leadville.
BV Rec’s program coordinator Caitlin Miles said the idea for the program came from Achieve, Inc. executive director Jenny Davis.
“We were pretty excited to hear from her just because there are not very many opportunities for neurodiverse individuals in our community,” Miles said. “We took it to our rec board, and it was just a unanimous idea that we should do this because this is a great program.”
Achieve runs the Little Engine Eatery, a small restaurant located in the locomotive outside the BV Heritage museum on East Main Street.
It provides job skills to neurodivergent young people. The Eatery is open during the summer, but Davis wanted to expand opportunities for her participants to other seasons. The partnership also helps them overcome the transportation hurdle, as BV Rec has a bus for programs.
“We have received incredibly positive feedback from both participants and their parents. The kids are a blast to hang out with and it is so inspiring to see them try new things and push themselves in new ways,” Davis said. “Achieve is so fortunate to be able to partner with Buena Vista Rec to carry out this program. BV Rec has an energetic and compassionate staff. I am hoping it can really expand our reach.”
One of the challenges of finding opportunities and activities for neurodiverse participants is finding things that are accessible, appropriate and in line with physical abilities. It can also be a financial challenge.
“There are more opportunities on the Front Range, but we’re just a little more isolated,” Miles said. “Our first outing was tubing at Dutch Henry Hill, and even that is a lot. The kids were uncertain of how physically demanding it was going to be.”
Many of the Rec Department’s current offerings, like soccer and basketball, may not be sports where neurodiverse kids feel most comfortable.
Davis said past negative experiences can also contribute to hesitancy around more general rec programs.
“Typically neurodivergent teens and young adults are hesitant to participate in general rec programs,” Davis said. “They may have had past experiences of bullying, felt invisible in a larger crowd or are concerned that organizers and chaperones will not be sensitive to special issues such as sensory issues or language issues.
“Our staff and volunteers are trained to be sensitive to these types of issues and are dedicated to making each participant feel welcomed and feel like they belong. Also, the group size is smaller and the activities are designed to be sensitive to a variety of issues and special needs.”
“It’s a little bit overwhelming for them,” Miles said. “A lot of these participants are younger, and they lack the social skills and the social confidence to put themselves out there with peers. So these smaller groups are definitely where they thrive.”
For their first event, Miles said they had participants from Cotopaxi to Leadville. Though it was a smaller crowd, families and friends are encouraged to join.
“A lot of people came solo, which is great,” Miles said, “but we wouldn’t mind siblings or close friends coming. We’re hoping for higher enrollment as we go, just to kind of get them more comfortable with what they’re doing. … We are hoping to get their friends and their family involved just to give them that extra confidence boost.”
Miles said they are also looking for volunteers to help facilitate the outings.
“I know that there are a lot of people in the community who asked how they can help out and this is a great volunteer opportunity to help some neurodiverse kids,” she said. “If people are interested in volunteering, reach out to us because we are looking for mentors and volunteers.”
Davis and Achieve hope to continue serving as a reliable resource for neurodivergent community members and their families.
“We want our neurodivergent participants to feel accepted for who they are and to develop more confidence and a sense of belonging,” she said. “Developing strong social networks is key to maintaining our mental health, so we hope that the support offered through the partnership will enable the program to remain stable, allowing participants to develop satisfaction with their social networks.”
Upcoming outings will be held on April 1 at Split Happens Bowling in Salida and on April 28 for swimming at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs in Nathrop. BV Rec hopes to host more of these outings again this fall.
Participants can find registration information online at www.buenavistarec.com
BV Rec also has scholarships to support those concerned about the costs of programming.
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