Up on the top floor of the SASCU Downtown Activity Centre is a special club.
Called the Loft, this club provides a supportive atmosphere for children with Down Syndrome or autism.
It gives the kids, who are referred by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, an opportunity to learn social skills and make friends.
The club meets after school, with the kids being dropped off by bus after school and heading upstairs to share their day play and socialize.
“They do crafts and activities and we’re weaving in how to interact socially and how to behave appropriately,” says June Stewart, executive director of the Shuswap Children’s Association.
The club runs four extended days during the summer so kids from outlying areas can attend.
Operated by the Shuswap Children’s Association, the Loft also gives participants an opportunity to be included in the community.
They go out on field trips, shopping, visiting places like DeMille’s. They were part of Unplug and Play at the library and they go swimming,” says Stewart, who was glad to accept a $1,000 donation to the program from Telus.
“It’s supporting all the fun things the Loft allows the children to do and we’re grateful for their support,” Stewart says. “Funding is always tight; we had to cut funding back from four to two days and now are able to do three because of support like this.”
It was Loft kids who carved pumpkins for the garden bed in front of the association’s Shuswap Street office and bird feeders now hanging from the “winter” tree, placed there when its life as a Christmas tree ended.
“Keep watching the front garden,” Stewart laughs. “We’re having so much fun and it’s gotten us a lot of attention.”
The Loft is one of about a dozen programs offered by the children’s association. Others programs include infant development, supported child development, occupational and physical therapy, a program that addresses FASD (fetal alcohol spectral disorder), childcare resource and referral services, a respite program and family play groups.
Thanks to a company called First Book Canada that provides the association with books for the price of shipping, the association has given away about 4,100 “beautiful” books.
An accredited agency and registered charity, the children’s association has about 50 part-time employees and finding adequate funding can be a challenge.
“We’ve been squeezing every penny even harder, which I think is the main part of my job,” says Stewart, noting she has no background in social services but her 20-year-plus business experience is indeed an asset. “It’s something of a growing trend in non-profits. You need a business manager because if there’s no money, there’s no mission.”
Stewart took over from longtime former executive director Lynn Wickett and says she is truly loving the job.
“The days fly past and I have a plateful; it’s not for the glorious pay or the glamorous premises, it’s working with staff that are like family,” she says. “They care about the families, they’re doing it for the love of it and it’s magical to be part of that.”