The gym was full of sounds of hard, pounding footsteps, bells, screams and laughter — a cacophony that usually goes hand in hand with the chaos of children at play. The sound usually raises the anxiety levels of nearby parents; however, in this case it seemed to have the opposite effect.
For the parents in the gym, this was a chance to connect with other parents, and talk about the difficulties of raising children. In this case, however, these difficulties are much more pronounced.
The gym playtime is part of the dragonflies and minnows program, an initiative organized by the Dragonfly Pond Family Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting families with children that have complex care needs or disabilities. The program gives children a chance to make friends, play and try activities like bowling and swimming, while their parents get a chance to network and share their advice and challenges with other parents,
“Our kids develop at different rates and stages and you can talk to other parents and see if their child went through similar difficulties and challenges at what age or stage,” said Coral Hayward, whose daughter Candace Alison suffers from severe autism, global development delay and epilepsy. “If you’ve been up all night for a week, they get it. There’ll be times when they won’t sleep, and sometimes parents of typical children don’t understand what we deal with every day.”
The children and parents aren’t the only ones who benefit from the program. The volunteers, who oftentimes have disabilities themselves, find a sense of purpose and build skills and responsibility through their work, said Simone Wyles, a caregiver for one of the volunteers, a 21-year-old man.
“It’s kind of a role reversal for my client. He takes on the role of being the responsible one, as opposed to having people be responsible for him. He’ll have kids come up to him and ask him for help or assistance, or he takes responsibility. Just the other day, he wouldn’t let them get on the bikes without putting a helmet on,” she said.
As well, thanks to community support such as a recent $2,500 donation from Telus, this programming is offered at no charge.
The dragonflies and minnows program is just one of the ways that the Dragonfly Pond Family Society offers support to both parents and their children, said Traci Fladager, program co-ordinator with the society.
“Children that have disabilities or special needs, if they want to go to any programming they have to have one-to-one support to go to any day camps or any kind of day care,” she explained. “There isn’t the kind of funding for those supports to be put in place right now. People are left with nothing, so with these programs, there’s no charge for these programs.”
The society also offers respite services to parents of children with special needs, giving them a night on the town by providing them with movie or symphony tickets, free meals at restaurants like the Pasta Factory, and a free stay in area hotels.
“They can have a break to reconnect with each other, reground and have a good night’s sleep before they have to go back to the everyday worry and grind that they’re dealing with,” said Fladager.
As well, the society runs a youth group, where children collect recycling and use the money to pay for activities like a recent trip to Loco Landing.
The thanks that the society’s organizers receive are some of the biggest rewards they get, said Fladager.
“The best thing is when families come up and say we wouldn’t have been able to do this or go there if you guys hadn’t been able to provide it,” she said. “That’s the main thing, is that people are able to participate in things they couldn’t otherwise do.”
For more information of the Dragonfly Pond Family Society, visit their website at www.dragonflypondsociety.com.