Club Story: The Importance of Inclusion

Today’s guest post is from BGCA’s own Katie Lee, and is from her time as Director of the Samuel L. Jones Club of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.

Have you ever had a parent tell you they didn’t want you to meet their child until after they had the chance to talk to you about him first?  When this happened to me, I had no idea what to expect.  So many things running through my mind.  Who is this kid? How bad is he going to be? This must be serious.

During our pre- introduction to the child meeting, the parents surprised me by saying, “Our son is so cute, no one can say no to him.  Before you meet him, we want to make sure you know that Samuel needs to be told no and you have to enforce rules with him, just like all the other kids.  Don’t let him manipulate you with his cuteness.”

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I laughed at them. What?! Who is this kid and how cute could he possibly be?

Then I met Samuel.

Samuel is developmentally delayed.  When I first met him, he was almost entirely nonverbal.  I had the pleasure of watching him grow, learn and flourish through the years of his tenure at the Club.  His parents give the warm, friendly, accepting environment of the Club credit for much of his social and verbal progress.

But this post isn’t about what the Club did for Samuel, it’s about what Samuel did for the Club.

Samuel is half the size of other kids his age and has a perma-smile on his face. His sugary sweet smile and personality make him absolutely irresistible.  This boy really IS impossible to say no to and enforce rules with.  He’s just too cute and sweet!

Does he have challenges that make it hard to work with him sometimes? Yes! However, his presence in our Club teaches all of us- youth and adult- how to accept, embrace and support ALL people, regardless of ability. Each day you see kids fighting over who gets to help Samuel with his art project, who gets to help Samuel ask for a snack, who gets to help Samuel pull his book bag out of his cubby, and on and on.  Samuel is so darn lovable, people want to help him, regardless of the inconvenience.

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A few tips for welcoming those with differing abilities to the Club:

  1. Teach skills youth need to participate in activities, to communicate, and to positively interact with peers;
  2. Implement individualized strategies, as needed; and
  3. Provide many opportunities to practice new skills with support.

Samuel has single-handedly converted our Club into a much more inclusive place.  Because of Samuel, any child that doesn’t fit the “typical” mold is welcomed and included by all at our Club.  Samuel has taught us the joy of asking, “How can I help?” so that everyone benefits from everyone participating.

Kids Included Together (KIT) has partnered with BGCA to ensure equity for youth with disabilities and their families. If you would like to learn more about KIT and how we can partner with your Club, please go to their website. Also check out the Disability Inclusion page on BGCA.net for more resources to assist your Club in serving youth with disabilities. Please note: You will need a BGCA.net login to access this site.

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Katie worked at the Samuel L. Jones Club for three years. She now works as Director of Sports, Fitness, and Recreation at BGCA. She has been in the Movement for seven years.

How have you seen the value of inclusion at your Club? Do you have a story you want to share with the Movement? Let us know in the comments!

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