Twelve-year-old Empress and her ten-year-old brother Mumijah have a close-knit and loving family, but not many opportunities to try new activities and meet new people.
That’s why their after-school program, a program supported by the United Way, is so important. “They get a break from me and their siblings,” says their mother Odette, “and they get to be on their own and do their own thing. They’re excited because it’s always something new.”
Odette says the kids are so enthusiastic about the program, they’ve become more motivated to do their chores and keep up with their homework because they know participating in the after-school program is a privilege.
The activities – including outings for swimming, bowling and Mumijah’s favourite, laser tag – keep the time in the program fun, but the people the sister and brother meet and the lessons they learn really make the program worthwhile.
“They always learn new things and come back and tell me,” says Odette who also has high praise for the leaders in the program and one leader in particular.”
Empress has met a role model she can really look up to.” Empress appreciates the friends she has made and the skills she’s developing. “I’ve learned to cooperate with people I wouldn’t usually talk to or hang around with,” she says.
Mumijah has taken to heart lessons he learned about bullying, saying, “If I saw someone being bullied, I would stand up for them.” Such is the power of laser tag.
When children and adults with intellectual disabilities have an opportunity to participate in programs, “its almost like there’s a seed that’s planted, and it gets nourished by the interactions with their peers, program facilitators, and community as a whole”.