Monday, April 25, 2016

Abilities First

Hey friends, it's been awhile! Since returning home from Dayton, OH, I have been scrambling to complete a thematic unit, pass a standardized teaching certification exam, and complete multiple tasks for the pre-service teacher assessment in Missouri. Things have been a little crazy!

However! I got the amazing opportunity this past weekend to volunteer in the Kids Zone at the Rock'n Ribs barbecue festival. I ran a bowling booth, monitored jumping pits, organized a craft booth with the Abilities First organization, and most of all, had a ton of fun with kiddos.

I'm going to be completely honest. I needed the community service hours and the craft activity for a class assignment. I had no idea what Abilities First was, nor had I any idea of the impact they had on our young community before last Saturday, but now that I know, I'm sharing the wealth. I haven't been this impressed with another organization in years.

Abilities First is an integrated program for students with and without disabilities, pledging to do exactly what their name says: focusing on each child's strengths and abilities before aiming efforts at any weaknesses or disabilities. Not only do they expand social and academic opportunities for young children, but they place hope and dreams within closer reach for each child.

Abilities First offers five amazing programs, including First Steps, The Next Step, Art Inspired, Inspired Boutique, and my personal favorite, the Art Inspired Academy. First Steps is an early intervention program for children ages 0-3 with developmental delays. The Next Step then takes over if the need is still present, and offers services well into adulthood to help the person transition into more independent thinking and living.

Art Inspired and Inspired Boutique take on a different strategy for the mission. Art Inspired is a non-profit business that provides employment opportunities for those who might not otherwise be able to work, offering art gallery spaces, craft activities, classes, and meeting spaces. Additionally, they are a manufacturing service that creates art and architecture from recycled materials. It literally has more ways to benefit the community than it does costs.

Inspired boutique is something else entirely. It is an upscale resale shop with name brand clothing, shoes, furniture, accessories, and more, all for much lower prices. The repurpose multiple items that might have otherwise been discarded, and all proceeds go to support those with developmental delays in Greene County.

And then there's my absolute favorite; literally a program that combines every single educational niche of mine into one amazing program: the Art Inspired Academy. This is another integrated experience for children with and without disabilities to come and interact socially, emotionally, and academically while learning about music, dance, theater, art, and more. Through these experiences, students will work on individual goals and skills in communication, motor skills, social skills, self-control, and confidence.

I cannot express how beneficial it is for children with disabilities to interact with others who do not have disabilities because it provides an authentic situation they often to not experience in public schooling. It is so unrealistic to keep these students separated into other classrooms, learning facilities, and experiences, only to throw them out into the real world and expect them to function normally among a diverse crowd of people. The Art Inspired Academy uses all the benefits of the arts  to bridge this gap, and benefits those without disabilities by allowing them to aid and teach others. After all, you learn something much more thoroughly if you are helping and teaching it to someone else!

I was so thrilled to learn about these amazing organizations I never knew existed, and already have an interview scheduled for Thursday to search for new ways I can be involved with Abilities First. Visit their website or contact me at for more information.

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