Saturday, October 31, 2020

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Miss Stacie’s Partnership Coordinates Funding Efforts for Special Needs Extracurricular Programming

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Buddy Basketball players take on shooting and dribbling drills on Jan. 8, the first day of the new Buddy Basketball season made possible through Miss Stacie’s Partnership. Photo by Michelle Anjirbag/The Courier

Buddy Basketball players take on shooting and dribbling drills on Jan. 8, the first day of the new Buddy Basketball season made possible through Miss Stacie’s Partnership. (Photo by Michelle Anjirbag/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

Grab a buddy and head to the basketball court, baseball field, or track—smiles, fun, teamwork, and new skills are all to be found in abundance at the programs that the recently incorporated Miss Stacie’s Partnership helps to support.

Miss Stacie’s Partnership, a privately funded nonprofit that partners with service organizations to fund and provide sports and arts opportunities for special needs children and their parents and families, builds on volunteer work that was being coordinated by four teachers and therapists from the Region 4 school district who recognized the need for other opportunities for their students.

The partnership is named for Stacie Boyd, the physical therapist for Region 4 schools for the past 26 years. In 2010, Boyd, along with occupational therapist Theresa Tovey and special education teachers Judi Ivemy and Kathy Morico, helped to coordinate a Buddy Baseball program with the local little league organization, through which children who are identified as having special education needs could play baseball, and share in the social experience and learning experience that comes from sports.

In Buddy Baseball, as in other buddy sports, high school aged volunteers, or “buddies,” are paired with a child participant to help facilitate participation in the sport. A buddy’s job is to keep the player on task, engaged, safe, and having fun. The partnership grew from this initiative until it was formalized as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization in 2016.

The way the organization works is that it coordinates a network of community providers, community partners, and volunteers to provide programs specifically for special needs children and their families. These programs and activities are executed by local agencies and professionals and supported by parents and volunteers.

Community providers include Shoreline Buddy Baseball, High Hopes Therapeutic Riding, and The Community Music School, whereas community partners are the organizations that facilitate the programming such as the Park & Recreation departments of Deep River, Westbrook, and Essex; the Essex Savings Bank Community Investment program; and corporate sponsors. Volunteers support the activities and programs, and include licensed therapeutic professionals, parents, coaches, and of course, the buddies, as well as private donors.

Miss Stacie’s Partnership’s role in this is to offset the costs of the programming, which encourages participation by making this kind of programming more accessible to families. According to Tim Boyd, Stacie’s husband and the coordinator behind the move toward the formal incorporation of the partnership, part of the goal is help sustain these programs over time, rather than relying on families or private benefactors to provide the funding for equipment, locations, T-shirts, trophies, and other costs.

“The funding provided by Miss Stacie’s Partnership permits students opportunities they might not otherwise have,” said Ivimey. “These programs are tailored to the needs of the children be they physical disabilities, compromise in expressive or receptive communication, sensory challenges, or delays in the child’s social skills development.”

At this time, there are about 60 families that participate in the programs supported by the partnership. It has expanded beyond the Region 4 school system, and serves families from the surrounding towns as well, providing access to sport experiences, inclusion in summer camp programs, and musical experiences.

Currently, Buddy Sports offerings include baseball, basketball, soccer, and track. A buddy art program is in the pipeline. Music therapy programming is also supported through the Community Music School. Originally, this was limited to only Essex Elementary School students who just had to walk next door to access the programming. Since 2013 the program has expanded to provide a traveling music therapist who works with students in all five Region 4 schools.

‘A Sense of Accomplishment’

Melissa Burch coordinates the Buddy Basketball program and is one of the recipients of funding through Miss Stacie’s Partnership, but her family has been involved the Buddy Sports programs since her now 7th-grade son, who is autistic, wanted to play baseball at age 6. The partnership provided about $1,000 to cover the gym fee and part of the trophy costs, which are given to all participants at the end of this year’s six-week program. There are 34 participants, each matched with his or her own buddy.

“By donating to local programs, the partnership keeps them running,” said Burch. “And these programs provide physical and social experiences for special needs families. Depending on the child’s identification, they can have limitations that prevent them from playing sports. It’s just not safe. Competition is often not something they understand—they just want to play, bounce the ball, shoot it.

“It’s important to the futures of these children,” continued Burch. “Socially, these kids can have alienating experiences. The sport is all-inclusive, and they are actually involved in a typical sport like their typical peers. It’s great for the families, too. Their child gets to participate in a group setting and achieve a sense of accomplishment. Parents can watch their children be happy. It’s a big deal.

“I think it’s important to realize without these programs, and the support of the partnership, these kids would just be sitting home. They are socially accepted, and build relationships with their typical peers,” added Burch. “It improves relationships, acceptance, empathy, and compassion on all sides.

As well as emphasizing the idea of education for all within a community, these programs meet long-term goals of creating more social experiences for the participants, which leads to higher functioning, increased independence, and long-term skills development. According to Morico, some of these students graduate from buddy sports to typical sports. As a special education teacher at Essex Elementary School, she sees the buddy sports programs as skill-building for students.

“It gives kids opportunities to communicate, and join in conversations with their peers,” noted Morico. “They’re proud of it.”

Katherine and Jason Boremski of Old Lyme have noted the benefit of the buddy sports programs for their 10-year-old son Harry.

“This is his second year in buddy basketball,” said Katherine Boremski. “He does all the buddy sports. We travel to Guilford for tennis, and he did very well with soccer, and was named male player of the year. He gets exercise, and he gets to interact with kids in a sport he can handle.

“We’re impressed by the buddies themselves, it’s amazing how they work with the kids and they’re genuinely happy to be here,” Boremski continued. “Henry will get down on himself, but the buddies and coaches are so great at encouraging him to just keep trying.”

“It’s amazing that they are willing to put in the time to do it,” added Jason Boremski. “There’s no pressure, no one makes fun of them—they just have so much fun.”

While there is always a need for those who are part of the larger community to get involved, there are some stipulations to keep programming safe, mainly, the programming needs to be overseen and managed by the professionals. According to Tim Boyd, to fully support families in Region 4 in Buddy Sports, music programs, and other community partnerships, the partnership needs to raise $20,000; the group raised about half the amount in the first seven months of fundraising.

For more information about how to get involved or to support Miss Stacie’s Partnership, visit www.miss-stacies.org.


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