Recently, a group of Ukrainian IVLP participants journeyed to San Antonio as part of their State Department program to take a closer look at the myriad programs San Antonio has to offer for special needs children. Although their time in San Antonio was unfortunately brief, they were still able to see all corners of the city as they explored what San Antonio had to offer.
The group began with a meeting at Mission Road Ministries. They were warmly received by Ms. Norma Gaitan and Ms. Anna Metaxas-Garcia in the campus’s chapel. There, they were able to discuss the variety of programs for special needs individuals of diverse ages including summer programs, residential facilities, as well as their signature SOAR and MORE programs. The visitors also took a look at the healthcare, residential, leisure, and culinary operations of Mission Road in a quick tour before departing for their next appointment.
This next meeting was with Dr. Brandon Biery of Children’s Association for Maximum Potential (CAMP). CAMP serves special-needs children by providing an authentic camp experience with a variety of program for children of all levels of need. Their facilities, specialists, and army of volunteers converge to make camp a fantastic experience for the children they serve.
After a break for lunch, the group then traveled to the humble facilities of TEAMability, an organization working to use the best evidence-based practices to serve children with multiple disabilities. Their unique approach and the opportunity to see multiple age-groups of children participating in their programs on-site was of immense interest to the visitors. They expressed their thanks to the TEAMability staff before concluding their programming for the day.
On Friday, they were in for a treat as they began the day exploring Morgan’s Wonderland. The one-of-a-kind theme park allowed the visitors to see some totally original ideas for providing fun for special needs children. The park has grown tremendously in recent years and boasts 25 acres of rides designed to serve special needs children. They also have on-site therapeutic and educational facilities to complement their recreational work. The Ukrainian IVLP visitors were also accompanied for this appointment by Ukrainian participants in our OpenWorld program on Education and Government Oversight. All of the visitors had fun exchanging their thoughts on San Antonio and the United States.
After lunch, there were still plenty of appointments for our visitors to keep. They started with an hour at Eva’s Heroes to discuss their important work enriching the lives of those youth with intellectual disabilities. They also met with the Arc of San Antonio to discuss their broad continuum of services for children, adolescents, and adults with intellectual developmental disabilities. They were joined by representatives from Autism Lifeline Links to discuss how they work together to provide services for individuals and families.
Lastly, they met with an ever-ready partner and resource of SACIV, the Children’s Shelter, who once again opened their doors and volunteered their time to meet with our visitors to discuss how they try to serve special needs children who pass through their nationally-accredited crisis shelter, residential center, therapeutic offices, and adoption services facilities. Although the Children’s Shelter serves children from any background who are in need, the visitors were interested to hear about how they can work with those children whose disabilities may require additional attention and how they function as an adoption agency in the United States.
That concluded the majority of their appointments, but before they were done in San Antonio, the visitors volunteered their time at Camp CAMP at their temporary home in Comfort, Texas. There, they helped facilitate a trick-or-treat scavenger hunt for the children CAMP serves. It was a great experience for the visitors and the children as our guests from Ukraine were able to teach a couple Ukrainian phrases to the group and see the inspirational programming of CAMP in action.
Overall, they were able to experience a wide swath of programs available in San Antonio from myriad organizations. These organizations showed our visitors their best practices in housing, treating, serving, advising, and having fun with children dealing with all manner of disabilities. The visitors definitely appreciated the time and efforts of everyone at each organization who is engaged in such inspiring and important work in our community.