“There is a form of prejudice in our society that surrounds disability — a discomfort, a subtle fear of that which is different and unfamiliar. It manifests as pity, avoidance or mockery. When we see someone with a profound disability, a fleeting thought occurs: ‘What if that were me?’ from which we quickly turn with a shudder.”¹

This Summer, Goldie Floberg tested a new concept for our agency, Kids Corps. Kids Corps is a group of junior volunteers, 7 to 15 years of age, who spent a few months assisting the adult Learning, Enrichment, and Empowerment Program (LEEP) and Goldie’s Gourmet Goodies. The goal of Kids Corps was twofold, benefiting not only the people we serve, but also to nurture in the volunteers our values, such as Growth, Teamwork, and Leadership.

In an interview with WNIJ correspondent Jenna Dooley, CEO John Pingo explained one of the many reasons why the program is working to integrate participants through this one program is that early in life, many of us were taught, not to stare, to look away, “… one of the things we’re hoping to accomplish with Kids Corps is to get young people in and see that people with developmental disabilities are not people to be afraid of. They’re people just like everybody else with hopes and dreams and talents and foibles, just like the rest of us.”

Kids Corps volunteers contributed to hand-over-hand assistance with craft activities, assisted in planting and maintaining the LEEP produce gardens, and worked side by side with staff and client staff to complete orders for Goldie’s Gourmet Goodies.

Kids Corps also designed itself through democratic and self-governing processes. Volunteers voted to elect their own leadership, develop a code of conduct, and, of course, choose how to exercise the Goldie Floberg value of Fun. Afternoon free time brought to life Center grounds and playground equipment which see less activity since the children we serve moved off site to the nurturing environments of our residential small group homes.
The Goldie’s Gourmet Goodies micro-business includes a self-sustaining element to lessen dependence on State funding. LEEP, however, while providing enrichment activities to some of our individuals who need the most intensive supports, is the first to experience cuts at a State level. Introducing Kids Corps to LEEP’s daily activities helped to increase the options available to the adults served, further production within the produce gardens, and bring a refreshing vibrancy to everyone’s day.

Programs, curriculum, and outcomes aside, Kids Corps showed us some less quantifiable benefits. One parent of a volunteer noted, “My daughter told me that when she goes back to school this fall, she’ll feel, better…more comfortable when she meets classmates who have disabilities.” Children went from labeling the people they were serving as “they, her, or client,” to statements like, “That’s Dawn, she loves purple!”

Looking around at national events and ahead to the future of Kids Corps and similar program ideas, this reminds us that integration is a two-way street. Options for children and adults with disabilities have come a long way with the advent of classroom integration. We can do more for the future of the people we serve and our children by developing integrative programs which incorporate side-by-side activities.

Imagine your view today if you had known at an early age that it was okay to ask questions or even shake someone’s hand. We are excited to consider the life-long bonds Kids Corps participants have formed with each other and the adults they now know by name.

¹Levinson, Lorie. “Disability Awareness: We’re In It Together.” Web blog post. Teaching Tolerance. Southern Poverty Law Center. Web 13 July 2016.