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EXCEPTIONALLY SPECIAL YOUTH: Mother starts Day Camp for special needs children

Raqual Cooper plays dress up with Piglet the dog as a part of therapeutic services provided by the Exceptionally Special Youth Day Camp program. Piglet is a trained therapy dog with the Dogs on Call program from Montgomery. MESSENGER PHOTO/QUINTA GOINES

Raqual Cooper plays dress up with Piglet the dog as a part of therapeutic services provided by the Exceptionally Special Youth Day Camp program. Piglet is a trained therapy dog with the Dogs on Call program from Montgomery.
MESSENGER PHOTO/QUINTA GOINES

One mother saw a need in the community, so she started the Exceptionally Special Youth Summer Day Camp Program at First Baptist Church in Troy.

Maricia Taylor is the mother of Wyatt Taylor, 8, who is autistic. As a single mother, she realized no daily summer programs or camps served special needs children in Troy.

So she started the Exceptionally Special Youth program.

“It is important for parents of a special needs child to know their child is in a safe, educational and therapeutic environment that they are used to at school,” Taylor said.

In its first summer, the camp has been a success. Five students from Troy Elementary School attend the day camp, and collaborative education majors and certified teachers from Troy University are working with the students. The students have opportunities to participate in physical and occupational therapy, life skills and academic learning.

On Thursday, representatives of Easter Seals in Montgomery, brought their Dogs on Call to the group. The students spent one-on-one time with trained therapeutic dogs learning motor skills, hand signals and gestures and how to care for others.

“Even though it looks like the children are just playing, they are learning actual life skills that come second nature to a typical child,” Taylor said.

Taylor said even though the program is small in number, the smallness is what the students need to help them continually progress.

“Every special needs child is different, and even though we want to expand in the future, we have a one-to-one student/teacher ratio most of the time,” she said.

Running the day camp program does not come easy or cheap. With the children being special needs, trained therapists and teachers are needed.

Taylor spearheaded the program by herself, but she has created connections with some of the university’s professors and students, and First Baptist Church provides the facility for the camp. “Without the support of First Baptist, ESY would not have been a program this summer,” she said. “It is a real blessing.”

The Day Camp is three days a week and it starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 5:30 p.m. to give parents an opportunity to make it to work on time and pick their children back up. A Camp Fee was put in place to secure funding for the teachers, learning activities and snacks.

Kaylee Smith is a senior collaborative education major at the university and one of the student workers for the camp.

“All of these kids were on my Miracle League team,” Smith said. “Here we get to spend time with them, and I get to see them in a different setting.”

Taylor is working to extend the program into the fall, transitioning it to an after-school program and incorporating the program to allow for grants and federal funding.

Currently the program is being funded through the camp fee and private donations. Anyone looking to make a donation can donate to an account set up at Troy Bank and Trust.