If I’d happened to have a bad day, I still wouldn’t have been able to stop smiling the night I attended the CAPES! Luau Celebration this spring at Weber State University. Children, families and Weber State student volunteers were spending their last night together before the summer break. Families and friends cheered on children, some wearing purple capes, resembling young superheroes, as they knocked down bowling pins, attempted the limbo, threw beanbags at targets and colored pictures.
I talked with families and volunteers about the program and only heard fabulous things about the CAPES! program for children ages 5-12 with developmental disabilities. As a pediatric occupational therapist in Ogden, Utah I’ve seen so many families of children with developmental disabilities struggle to find activities in the community for their children to fit into. But the night of the CAPES! celebration, these little superheroes, with their friends by their side, were fearless with nothing standing in their way of care-free childhood play.
One mom told me that her daughter often stays home while her siblings play with friends or participate in extracurricular activities. But CAPES! is all about her, and she and her parents love the fun, safe place that this program has created without any fear of feeling left out at anytime.
CAPES! is supported by Weber State University students who are enrolled in or have taken either Adaptive Physical Education or Introduction to Special Education classes with the facilitators of the program, Dr. James Zagrodnik and Dr. Natalie Williams. Each child is assigned to a student volunteer throughout the semester. They’ve created a program that builds important experiences and skills for children with developmental disabilities and students who are studying to work with this population in the future.
Drs. Williams and Zagrodnik shared students’ written experiences with me and the stories seemed to follow a similar trend. At the beginning of the semester, students were nervous, unsure of their abilities and chance of enjoying the experience, many having had very little experience with children with disabilities. Quickly, after the first or second time, students were attached to their new, younger friends and celebrating small successes with them. By the end, most students were sad their time was coming to an end, having learned valuable lessons and thoroughly enjoyed their time working with the children.
I watched the children find their student volunteers with excitement to try a new activity, which was followed by beaming faces as the student volunteers gave their full attention and enthusiastic praise. The relationships between the students and children become beneficial to both sides, with a sense of satisfaction and growth for each.
The program has spots for about 35 children each semester. If the program is a good fit, children can continue to participate for 5-6 semesters (spring and fall semesters) or until they age out of the program. They meet for an hour and 15 minutes on Tuesday nights for 10 weeks each semester, where half the time is spent in the pool and half the time doing land-based activities. Each student volunteer plans fun activities for their child to work on any skill they feel is beneficial for the child. The cost is only $25 per child for each semester to help cover costs for the use of the Weber State University facilities.
If you are interested in having your child with a developmental disability apply to CAPES!, you can do so at weber.edu/capes/registration. You may be placed on the CAPES! waiting list if the program is full, but I believe it’s worth the wait! Take advantage of this one-of-a-kind program in our Ogden, Utah area!