Providing a safe, secure environment and successful skill building are program's focus
When school-age children with special needs arrive at Camp Baker's after school program this September, they can unwind by the sensory garden where the sights and scents of colorful flowers and herbs can be soothing. The garden is just one aspect of after school care provided by at the camp, 22 wooded acres at 7600 Beach Road in Chesterfield that's part of the Greater Richmond ARC (formerly the Association for Retarded Citizens.) A similar after school program is also available for students (ages 6 to 22) at ARCenter, 3600 Saunders Avenue, the organization's headquarters in downtown Richmond, where students may unwind by practicing sign language or learning to cook.
Gwen Hicks, Camp Baker's director of day services, says some quiet time in the sensory garden can be calming after the rigors of a long school day. Nature plays a big role in the camp's after school program, in part because of the camp's forested setting. Similarly, ARCenter has its own benefits, including a new state-of-the art building complete with computers for student use, and the advantage of being close by to organizations like the SPCA, where ARC has helped with tasks including brushing the animals and giving treats to the dogs and cats.
Finding the right after school program is critical for parents and caregivers, according to Camesha Peters, ARCenter's coordinator of after school services. A safe, secure environment is important and she suggests caregivers begin their search with a personal tour at any after school program. An on-site visit provides families the chance to observe the program firsthand and ask questions. Peters, who has more than a decade of experience in working with children with developmental disabilities, recommends asking about the program's regularly scheduled activities and the role of goal-setting to enhance each child's success. "At ARCenter, our children learn essential living skills and social etiquette to the best of their ability. It takes time to achieve certain goals, but our after school staff is diligent in introducing learning opportunities," she says.
Camp Baker and ARCenter's after school programs are open Monday through Friday until 6 pm and during the day during scheduled school holidays. Licensed by the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services, The Greater Richmond ARC after school programs are Medicaid waiver providers. Camp Baker is also accredited by the American Camping Association.