Parents thrilled to find social opportunities for their children at SPARC

Written by Brian J. Howard, Oct. 13, 2011 – View the original article

YORKTOWN — For Gwen Jagde, the best programs for her son Michael are those that let him do things kids his age without special needs get to do.

Like just hanging out with friends on a Friday night.

“The idea for them is to just be with the group and just hang out like everybody else does,” the Ardsley resident said of Teen Time, a program run by Yorktown-based SPARC that Michael, 19, has attended for years.

“They look at all of the children’s needs,” Jagde said of SPARC, or Special Program and Resource Connection. “Whether it’s academic, whether it’s behavioral and whether it’s emotional, and all of that gets tied into that recreation piece.”

That recreation piece is essential to the lives of the children and adults SPARC has served since Rose Rothe founded the nonprofit in 1989.

In a conversation at SPARC’s main offices in the basement of her Yorktown home, Rothe said that funding these days for such programs is tight. Grants and scholarships are decreasing even as the demand for SPARC’s 75 weekly programs countywide is up.

“A lot of our population have not had the opportunity to explore many different leisure activities and find the two or three passions that make their life and just turn them on and give them the opportunity to get out in the world and fulfill their own path,” she said. “That’s what we try to do for people.”

So whether it’s a cooking class, Zumba, horseback riding or film production, SPARC’s 1,000 monthly program participants have a range of options.

To help offset costs, SPARC is looking to its biggest and longest-running fundraiser Wednesday. The 12th annual Charity Golf Outing at Somers Pointe Gold Club in Heritage Hills will feature 18 holes of golf, a golf clinic, silent auction and a hole-in-one contest where the prize is a brand new BMW.

Rothe said slots are still available. The cost is $195, which includes lunch, dinner, golf and a gift bag.

SPARC’s other annual fundraiser is a spring benefit in Sleepy Hollow that will feature a Moroccan theme and a whiskey tasting. The idea, she said, is to make these events memorable.

Similar thinking goes into SPARC’s programs, which began as partnerships with local group homes and grew into multi-age offerings throughout Westchester.

These days, in fact, those living in group homes are harder to reach as a lack of funding has led many providers to offer recreation programs in-house. But SPARC’s experience and expertise aren’t so easily duplicated, Rothe said.

SPARC’s LINK-Up program offers daytime instructional and recreational activities for young adults. One is run out of Pace University in White Plains and another is launching in Ossining next month.

Kids Express is an after-school program offered in Lakeland, Yorktown and Somers that teaches all kindergarten through fifth-grade children character building, creativity and social skills.

Lara Perkins of Mount Kisco credits SPARC with being receptive to parents’ ideas and adapting programs to changing needs. Perkins helped develop SPARC’s Summer Magic half-day camp program for children with autism like her son, Noah Shenkin, who is 7.

She has found few other programs for Noah and said many people mistake the difficulty children with autism have with socialization with a desire not to socialize at all. They very much want to, Perkins said, but need to be shown how.

“Playing and making friends are such a part of being a child and really being a human being,” she said.