SMASH program resumes for students with special needs

Participants welcome every Tuesday and Thursday after school.

CHRISTINE HARKINSON/The Sun: A welcome sign at the Moorestown Recreation Center made by participants of the SMASH Program for special needs students.

For Sue Williams, board member of the Monica Buckley Memorial Foundation, seeing the SMASH (Social Meeting After School Hours) Program resume after a year-long COVID hiatus is extra special.

“They all seem like they’re very happy to see each other, especially after some of them graduate and move on to other programs,” Williams said of special needs students in the Moorestown school district.

“This is offered so that they can continue to see their friends that were at high school with them, because after high school everything changes.”

Cynthia Roberts, assistant recreation director, was thrilled to see students listening to live music, cooking and making arts and crafts on Oct. 7, the first day for SMASH.

“We’re very excited to see the kids again,” she said. “You can see the relationships that we have with everyone. The staff is pretty much the same staff that was here a year and a half ago, because we went until March of 2020.”

Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon through Dec. 12, students in middle and high school and young adults up to age 24 meet to hang out with friends and participate in activities such as music therapy, arts and crafts, karate, cooking, yoga and fitness classes. SMASH runs through the entire calendar year and is funded by the Buckley foundation.

CHRISTINE HARKINSON/The Sun: Assistant Recreation Director Cynthia Roberts, Tim Moses and staff members Kyle Austin and Amy Fillippone cook with students in the SMASH Program as they prepare smoothies.

“The wonderful thing is that there’s an opportunity for other individuals with special needs to get out and feel like they are being included and having the opportunity to just do different things that they might not be doing after the school or the day program is done basically,” Williams noted.

“It’s also really great for the parents to have more support, so that they can get things done,” Williams added. “Some of these parents are working, and you typically don’t end a workday at 2 p.m. or 2:15 p.m. so it helps parents to maintain their ability to be with their other children, hold down jobs and prepare dinner.”

According to Williams, the foundation works closely with the Moorestown Parks and Recreation Department. SMASH students need to have transportation to the rec center.

“We started a program with ideas and a lot of positive attitudes,” she explained, “and it’s gone really well in keeping our special needs population busy with socialization with other individuals.”