Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Backpack Program: Inspiring a Sense of Dignity


“When people treat one another with dignity, they become more connected and are able to create more meaningful lives.

Donna Hicks, Ph.D.

Author of Leading with Dignity: How to create a culture that brings out the best in people

     Laraway’s Backpack Program staff spent time reading Donna Hicks’ book about dignity as theyprepared for and delivered summer programming. An underlying theme in their work would be toemphasize each child’s dignity.
     The program, which is structured like a day camp, was hosted at the VFW in Hyde Park, Vermont. That was the base from which various groups gathered before dispersing to community activities.Inspired by Hicks’ writing, highly structured schedules of the past were replaced with a more relaxed activity pace.
     “It’s difficult, sometimes, for our kids to complete things at school,” said Tammy Miller, Backpack’sProgram Director.
     Miller referred to, typically, highly structured environments in public schools which work for many but not all students. Children in our Backpack Program attend their local public schools during the academic year, supported by Laraway Behavioral Interventionists. Because of their needs, it can be difficult for them to complete things in class.
     “We wanted to give them (clients) a sense of accomplishment from completing something,” Miller said. Programming included an art show in Laraway’s Gallery Space and a “Wax Museum” Event in which campers read biographies and then dressed up and answered questions about their historical figure. They also spent a lot of time outside picking (and eating) blueberries, mountain biking, hula hooping and swimming. All the while, they practiced social skills as they grew in confidence.
     This is what one of our Backpack staffers said they learned from our Campers:
“I learned that you should always include others and remember to laugh.” (AJ)
“I learned that you can be British while living in the U.S. and you can create an entire zoo out of clay.” (JS)
“I learned that dinosaurs aren’t always big and scary. They are, actually, quite sweet.” (ML)
“I learned that guinea pigs look like bunnies, and, sometimes, they are lucky enough to get the best, sweetest, kindest, owners.” (SP)
“I discovered that unicorns are even cuter when they are hand-drawn and that you should never be afraidto sing in the car.” (PS)
“I learned that you should always brush your hair, swing your hips and never say no to swimming,” (EG)
Backpack’s Summer Program ended with a cookout to which families and caregivers were invited. Afew tears were shed by staff as they reflected on this wonderful, striving group of campers. Let the school year begin!

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