Half a million dollars in funding is coming to a Nova Scotia non-profit program that helps children and adults living with developmental, cognitive, physical and sensory disabilities.
Jumpstart, a national charity for children in financial need, has committed $500,000 to the Sensory Motor Instructional Leadership Experience (S.M.I.L.E.) in Wolfville.
The program, which originated in the early 1980s, promotes physical activity for those living with disabilities with the hope of improving participants’ total development.
Dr. Roxanne Seaman, director of the S.M.I.L.E. program, says the funding will allow S.M.I.L.E. to upgrade the facility where the program is held.
The gymnasium will feature an area where participants can develop their fundamental movement and literacy skills, all while in an environment that meets their sensory needs at the same time.
“Many of our participants in S.M.I.L.E. are preschoolers and have autism so that first time that they come into an athletic complex, it’s very overwhelming,” said Seaman.
“Being able to have a space that we can provide that very adequate and age-appropriate programming is really incredible.”
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Seaman adds that the facility is designed so participants aren’t able to age out of the environment, allowing for the participation of all ages and ability levels.
The funding was announced on Tuesday in accordance with National AccessAbility Week.
S.M.I.L.E. currently has 280 participants. The program was originally for children and teenagers but recently began incorporating programming for young adults as well.
Participants come from several different areas throughout Nova Scotia. Students from Acadia University, as well as some local high school students, volunteer for the program to keep it afloat.
Seaman says the new funding will alleviate unnecessary stress and put the focus where it should be — on the kids.
“We’ve been learning to be adaptable and flexible in our programming, but that doesn’t also meet the needs of what our participants need all the time,” she said.
“This certainly just adds to permanent spaces that will enhance all the programming that we know we can accomplish.”
Work on the multisensory environment will happen over the summer months and is expected to be completed by the fall. Seaman believes an elevator to help with accessibility will be installed by this time next year.
“We have the students, we have the energy, we just need a little bit more space to be able to do everything that we need to do,” she said.