For most school children, the summer brings with it the promise of fun-filled camps, clubs and activities, yet many of these programs remain inaccessible for those with disabilities. For this reason, the Carpinteria unit of the United Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara County has launched a pilot Summer Inclusion Program in which all children, regardless of physical or mental disadvantages, will have the opportunity to build friendships and enjoy the Carpinteria Club.
From July 26 through Aug. 23, the Carpinteria Club offers a weekly program on Wednesday mornings with the goal of ensuring that any child who desires to join will be not be denied simply because of their disadvantages. In order to accomplish this goal, the club will make a series of modifications, such as soliciting parental input and allowing parents to observe their children from the building’s patio.
These adaptations were praised by Caroline Alarcon whose 10-year-old son, Sebastian Torres, has used a wheelchair for the past two years as a result of Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy. She describes the program as a great stepping stone for both her and her son, stating that, “he’s got a larger-than-life personality so it’s hard for me to just put him somewhere. He needs to have constant supervision and I want him to have a really good experience so that he’ll be willing to want to try other things on his own.”
The program was inspired by the Carpinteria Club’s hiring of Amy Brooks. Brooks has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, but she loves working with children. She joined the organization earlier this year as an Inclusion Specialist and has worked tirelessly with the administration to bring about the inclusion program. She recognizes its importance, not only for the children with disabilities who will now have access to the Carpinteria Club, but also for those able-bodied children who will grow from the interactions.
Brooks notes, “In my experience, the earlier and more often kids and teens are given exposure to people and experiences that are different, the easier it is to learn compassion and empathy, gain understanding, see curiosity positively, and build bonds without, or with less bias.” This echoes a statement made by Caroline Alarcon, who also sees the value of bringing all kids together: “To have other kids see and build friendships and not be afraid to ask questions is really important because Carpinteria is a very small community and ... so it’s important that they build those relationships that are long lasting.”
Brooks also sees the importance of this program in terms of what message it sends to the community about people living with disabilities. “Attempting full inclusion demonstrates that we find value and worth in each and every person; it shows that we believe no one person is better than anyone else, and that we all have a purpose here.”
Although the program will only be offered at the Carpinteria Club this summer, the United Boys & Girls Club administration stresses that its ultimate goal is extending the program across Santa Barbara County. Through its expansion, the Summer Inclusion Program will serve as a great leap forward in terms of achieving the organization’s mission of enabling all young people to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.