The New Canaan YMCA is proudly home to one of the largest special needs departments in YMCAs throughout the country. With a dedication and commitment to an inclusive and supportive environment for all, the New Canaan YMCA serves over 130 children, teens, and adults with special needs each year through meaningful programs, events, and resources.
Pre-pandemic, the Y’s support for individuals with special needs and their families featured life-changing programs in a small group environment. Participants thrived at the Y through a variety of social-recreational programs including theater, art, and dance, promoting creativity and self-expression, cooking and fitness that helped create a healthy and independent routine, as well as social outings where participants developed communication skills and enjoyed time with friends. Each program fostered a sense of belonging, confidence, and independence among all participants, regardless of need or ability.
“My daughter feels such a sense of fulfillment in everything she experiences at the Y and the community experiences that she’s had when she’s there. When she meets up with the group, it has really given her a sense of feeling like a young adult, and to come home and be able to tell me things about her time when she knows I didn’t experience them—they were truly hers—has really made a difference for her,” shared the parent of a YSN participant.
While the New Canaan YMCA special needs department has provided meaningful and life-changing support for hundreds of individuals with special needs over the years, the need and impact intensified this past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carolynn Kaufman, Director of Special Needs Programming, shared, “The state-wide COVID shutdown was a challenge for our special needs community since in-person social, recreational, and enrichment opportunities have helped so many of our participants thrive at the Y.” Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, social activities became even more crucial for the Y’s special needs community. YSN participants were able to maintain a sense of normalcy through social activities via Zoom, including bingo nights, Pictionary games, at-home scavenger hunts, and more with friends and familiar faces.
“We were so grateful to stay connected during the closure by hosting bi-weekly Zoom calls with our participants, providing social interaction with their Y friends while ensuring that they felt supported throughout that isolating time. Getting back to in-person activities this past year has been extremely important for our special needs community, the Y is a second home for our participants, a place where they can see and have fun with friends,” added Kaufman.
Ever since the Y reopened last June, the organization has remained committed and dedicated to providing support and opportunities for children, teens, and adults with special needs to engage and socialize when so many other aspects of their lives such as school, employment, or other activities have remained limited this year.
“It has been so important for my daughter to return to the YMCA last summer. COVID-19 has been such a difficult experience for her. She participated in the Zoom programs with the YMCA last spring, which let her see her friends, but every day she would ask, when am I going to the Y? I noticed that she was less and less verbal. I would try to get her to speak, but she became very quiet,” shared the parent of a YSN participant.
“Then the New Canaan Y announced that there would be an in-person special needs summer program. Even though the program was not to start for more than a week, my daughter packed her backpack and was ready to go. On the first day of program, I picked her up and she talked non-stop the whole way home. I was thrilled to hear her talking again. The Y is her community, her friends, and her social life,” added the parent of a YSN participant.
When the Y reopened last June, it launched a redesigned summer camp program specifically for teens and young adults with special needs. The variety of enrichment opportunities served as an incredibly important, supportive, and refreshing social opportunity for teens and young adults with special needs. Last fall, the Y reintroduced its beloved in-person YSN programming, bringing back the inclusive Y experience to children, teens, and adults with special needs. These supportive programs and events have been critical in helping the Y’s special needs community to regain the confidence, independence, and social interaction that they experienced before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our special needs initiative touches so many lives in our community and ensures that our Y is an inclusive and welcoming place for everyone who walks through its doors. We’re incredibly proud of the lives we have enriched over the years and excited to grow our new employment initiative for individuals with special needs,” shared Margaret Riley, Executive Director.
The Y’s special needs programming is made possible by generous community support, including individual contributions, the Y’s Annual Charity Golf Tournament, and fellow community partners including grant support from the Exchange Club of New Canaan, New Canaan Community Foundation, New Canaan Artisans, and Young Women’s League of New Canaan.
For additional information about the New Canaan YMCA’s special needs programming, contact Carolynn Kaufman at 203-920-1656 or email@example.com. To support the Y’s special needs initiative, visit www.newcanaanymca.org/donate.