Parks & Rec. ‘smashes’ through barriers to bring special needs programming to town

The department has won a 2017–2018 Jacquie Stanley Excellence in Therapeutic Programming award for the SMASH program.

Several years ago, there was a desire within the Moorestown Department of Parks to develop programming for special needs teenagers. Today, the department’s Social Meeting after School Hours program is being recognized for its efforts, having won the 2017–2018 Jacquie Stanley Excellence in Therapeutic Programming award from the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association.

Theresa Miller, director of Moorestown’s department of parks & recreation, said the SMASH program got off the ground thanks in large part to a collaboration with The Monica Buckley Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit that helps create programs for special needs individuals. Miller said Sue Williams, who sits on the board of the Monica Buckley foundation and is a local parent, met with the department, and together with the Monica Buckley foundation, they developed the SMASH program

The goal was to create a program that gave teenagers and young adults with special needs an opportunity to participate in social activities. She said SMASH provides safe and interactive programming while promoting independence, creativity and confidence. She said the program helps foster friendship and in doing so, helps combat loneliness and depression.

At 2 p.m., students enrolled in the program are bused from Moorestown High School to the Church Street Recreation Center. Students are offered a wide array of programming from karate, music, art and cooking classes to games and other activities.

Miller said participants have varying levels of disabilities. She said some have Down syndrome, autism or are nonverbal. Miller said some of the older participants often return to the program as counselors.

All of these activities take place under the supervision of teachers, caregivers, paraprofessionals and volunteers. Miller said many of these volunteers are fellow Moorestown High School students who are happy to assist during an art class, activity or in any other capacity they can lend a hand.

Running the SMASH program is a largely collaborative effort, according to Miller. The Moorestown school district provides the transportation for the program, which is funded almost entirely by the Monica Buckley foundation.

Every other year, the foundation puts on a “Rock the Rec” fundraiser, through which the Monica Buckley foundation is able to raise funds to continue to support the SMASH program.The foundation covers the cost of staffing, instruction and most of the other major expenses.

Participants also come from the surrounding towns, with students from Cinnaminson and other nearby schools coming to Moorestown to participate.

Through the foundation’s support, the department of parks & recreation is able to provide the program at a minimal cost to caregivers of $30.

“There’s so many people involved to make this program happen,” Miller said. “It’s a collaboration of many, many people.”

Miller said to have the program recognized by the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association was nothing short of an honor. She said to date, they’ve consistently gotten an overwhelmingly positive response from parents and participants alike.

“It’s phenomenal feedback.” Miller said. “The parents are grateful. The children are happy and look forward to it.”

To find out more about the SMASH program or to enroll, visit www.moorestown.nj.us/253/Parks-Recreation.