Supporting Youth Through Meaningful Recreation

Rehabilitation Centre for Children’s LIFE Program is a lifeline for families during the pandemic

Logging on to Saturday Night for Teens from his computer is a big change for Daniel. Normally he’d be walking into the SSCY Centre with 15 of his closest friends for the bustling, parent-free hangout. Yet Daniel is just as excited to chat and play games with friends from his living room because these few hours provide a crucial break from the isolation he has felt this past year.

“The [virtual] programs have been a lifeline for us because we’re keeping him at home. It’s the only time he can see friends,” says Daniel’s mom, Cathy.

Daniel at Rehabilitation Centre for Children LIFE Program’s summer camp. It was the last in-person recreation program he attended before moving to virtual events in the fall. The online programs have been a lifeline ever since.

COVID-19 has greatly disrupted the lives of children living with disabilities, many of whom are at a greater risk of developing life-threatening complications. Social isolation has been particularly hard on the children we support.

“Daniel has Down syndrome and there have been reports of increased risk of severe outcomes if he contracts it. After we saw that news in January, we made the heartbreaking decision to take him out of school and he has not been back,” explains Cathy. “It has been tough mentally on him, but if he didn’t have this [program] it would be awful and I don’t know where we would be at.”

Since the early days of the pandemic, Rehabilitation Centre for Children LIFE Program coordinators have worked tirelessly to ensure Saturday Night for Teens and other recreation programs—from music classes to yoga sessions—are available to families virtually.

“We’ve learned a lot in terms of how to provide quality programs to as many participants as possible while maximizing the interactive piece,” explains Carol Kehler, a physiotherapist with the Rehabilitation Centre for Children.

LIFE Program’s Spa Day, held annually at SSCY Centre, was revamped into a gift box and delivered to households. Fun in the Kitchen classes over Zoom embraced the chatter around cooking a meal, discussing everything from the shape of their cookies to inventive toppings and add-ins that make their creations extra special.

“We’re sharing ideas and thoughts. It’s more work to facilitate but it’s all the same stuff we do in person,” says Kehler. “Relationships are essential to everything we do. It would be hard to imagine delivering programs and not keep that a central component.”

Nineteen-year-old Brett has attended LIFE Programs for close to a decade and that hasn’t stopped during the pandemic. His mom Cheryl says the virtual programs have not only given him something to look forward to, they’ve also helped support his independence during an unpredictable time.

Brett (right) bakes biscuits at LIFE Program’s Fun in the Kitchen class. He’s been attending the program virtually this past year.

“A huge piece is the growth in him being a bit more mature and independent to do these classes on his own. I used to have to be beside him, but he really has matured and he focuses on these calls. I think it’s because it’s all his. It has nothing to do with me,” she says.

The LIFE Program is preparing for the return of in-person programming, welcoming campers back to Sun and Fun Day Camp under current public health orders. With the success of virtual programming, specifically the increased accessibility for families, it will continue and even grow.

“Our population, many of them struggle with meaningful relationships, so it’s important we facilitate that,” says Kehler. “Our hope is that they can navigate a world that is always changing and relationships contribute to that.”


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