For many parents of children with special needs, it can be difficult finding fun activities for the kids where they get to learn, play and socialize. The prospect is even harder when it comes to younger children.
Rochester resident Laura Antonellis has been working to change that for families in the South Coast. With the help of the Mattapoisett Recreation Department, Antonellis, whose daughter has special needs, organized a regular sports program for area kids and their families.
“We were going to a similar program in Tiverton, but it was a pretty long drive. This was something I wanted to do for my daughter. They really need it out here,” said Antonellis.
The program is directly affiliated with the local branch of the Special Olympics and included tee-ball, soccer, basketball and field day activities.
“I called their South Coast office, said I was interested in starting one. They put me in contact with a woman there, Megan Hoffman, who gave me some great tips.”
So far, the hard work of Antonellis has paid off. The program includes about 10 children and their families. Volunteers help monitor the activities and encourage the kids to play.
“I did the Special Olympics program in Tiverton. This is much closer and convenient,” said 17-year-old New Bedford resident and volunteer Mackenzie Martins.
Martins started volunteering about a year ago, and working with children with special needs has become a focus in her life.
“I go to Bridgewater State University and I’m majoring in motor development and physical education. In the long run, I hope to work with special needs kids. I also work for the Schwartz Center for Children in Dartmouth,” she said, explaining that the Center provides medical care, education and therapy to children with disabilities and special needs.
Another volunteer, Jac Carreiro, a 15-year-old from New Bedford, was there working with kids for the first time.
“My ninth grade geometry teacher got me involved in this. Her son is here,” he said. “I like helping out, little kids especially. This is my first time working with special needs kids and I hope to have more chances later on.”
While the program is focused on very young children, their parents see it as a way to give their kids options.
“We really wanted to broaden his horizons and get him involved in anything we can,” said Tom Vermilya of Wareham. His son, Shane, who turns five next week, participated in Sunday’s program.
He said it’s really important to take advantage of these activities where his son can exercise and socialize with other kids.
“He’s in pre-school now and he loves it. He’s always running for the door when it’s time to leave,” Vermilya said.
Making the Special Olympics program successful has been a community effort, from the work of the volunteers to the support of the parents.
“MATTREC has been great in helping us out. They let us use the Center School field on good days or the gym when it rains,” said Antonellis. “It’s fun, it brings in a lot of people. It helps teach the importance of community service, volunteerism and compassion.”
For more information, contact Laura Antonellis at 508-212-8104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Eric Tripoli