Summer fun for special needs now offered

Heather Latter

Children and young adults with special needs will have plenty to do this summer thanks to a new business that has started up here.
Brooke Hammer, who has been studying business at Trent University in Peterborough, returned home for the summer and developed a company called “Take Flight.”
“It is right now essentially a summer camp for children and young adults with special needs,” Hammer explained.
She said the idea is to improve the quality of life of children and young adults with special needs by providing a fun, inclusive, educational environment that promotes personal and social development.
“My older brother, Cole, has Down syndrome and growing up, and especially being in a small community, there’s really no opportunities, nothing for him to do,” Hammer remarked.
“And as soon as you graduate [high school], there is really nothing.
“There’s not generally summer camps or programs for 19-years-olds,” she added. “So he finds himself sitting at home fairly often with nothing really to do.
“And that’s been the case with all the clients I’ve met with,” she noted. “They all say the same thing.”
Hammer said there is government funding for programs like this but there aren’t any programs locally that qualify.
“I don’t know why it took me so long to figure out what I wanted to do because I’ve volunteered with Community Living and organizations like that my whole life,” she noted.
“Where I go to university, I’m an employee of the Down Syndrome Association there, so I lead programs just like this and I do respite work for up to 45 hours at a time and I love it.
“Then me and my mom are always complaining that there is nothing for Cole and then a light bulb went off,” Hammer recalled.
“I’m in business, I know I want to open my own business, this is something I’m passionate about, so it just hit me.”
Hammer started planning the business last year, coming up with the name and developing a website.
Then she went about getting her business licences, insurance, and commercial bank account.
She also got a grant from the “Summer Company” program.
“Then a few months ago, we started with a Facebook page and started sending out notifications out to see what kind of a response we got,” Hammer said, admitting initially she didn’t get any responses from people saying they were interested.
But when the first few people became interested, it picked up from there.
“When I met with them, they were over the moon excited,” she remarked. “It was exactly what they needed.
“It’s such a great opportunity for their kids to still get to socialize and interact with their peers, but it’s a program exclusively for them,” Hammer stressed.
“So we understand their needs. The whole program is designed around them.”
The program, which started up last week, runs Monday through Friday, with both indoor and outdoor programming planned.
Two days a week, they are inside at Kenora-Rainy Rainy River Child and Family Services here.
“We have a lot of educational games and activities,” Hammer noted, adding she has plenty of sensory-based arts and crafts planned.
“A few of the clients are in wheelchairs and they can only control their hands, and we have someone who is blind,” she said.
“And children with autism especially love the different textures.
“So all of our arts and crafts are sensory-based,” she noted. “So even if you can’t see or can’t move anything but your hands, you’ll still be involved and engaged.”
The other three days, meanwhile, are spent outside at the Lions Park or the Point Park beach.
“We’ll have all kinds of athletic activities—ones that even people in wheelchairs can participate in, such as obstacle courses that the workers can push them through,” Hammer explained.
“Everything is meant to teach them something,” she added. “Even if we’re only playing a game, they’re still developing fine motor skills and social skills.”
And they teach a life skills lesson everyday.
The ages of her clients currently range from seven to early 20s.
“Hopefully, we’ll have more clients come so we can separate the two groups,” Hammer said, noting originally she wanted to have two divisions, a senior and a junior, with the juniors in the morning and the seniors in the afternoon.
“But there wasn’t quite enough interest to cover the expenses because it is a fairly expensive program to run,” she stressed.
“We’re hoping people will hear about it, and hear good things about it, and then we can separate the two.”
Hammer said clients can sign up for whatever they are interested in, whether it be a few days, weeks, or the whole summer.
“Everyone, except one, has signed up to come every single day for the first four weeks and go from there,” she noted.
“There are packages so if you come every day, it’s a little bit less, but it’s only $6-$7 an hour to come.”
The programming runs from 12:45-4 p.m.
“Take Flight” also offers tutoring services and respite care.
“Temporary, single-day care is provided to relieve usual caregivers and provide new and fun opportunities,” Hammer said.
“And every week there is a movie night that we hold so everyone can come with their families,” she added, noting it’s held Thursdays in the Shaw Room at the Fort Frances Library and the cost is $8 (snacks included).
For now, Hammer said “Take Flight” is a summer business.
“But I have really big hopes for it,” she enthused, noting she’s finishing up business school.
“It does stand to do fairly profitable and it’s such a great thing for the community,” she reasoned.
“I want it to be a full-time facility and then have franchises,” Hammer noted, adding eventually she’d like to have a lot of locations because it’s needed in so many communities.
“The best part is that I’m doing something I’m passionate about and still being profitable,” she remarked.
“I’ve always wanted to find something that came together like this.
“And on top of it, it’s such a great thing for the kids in the community,” she added.
For more info, contact Hammer at 1-807-861-0032 or visit www.takeflightprogramming.com