The Giveaway has ended
In my career I’ve been fortunate to work with groups of individuals who have special needs or sensory challenges, and I’ve always known I wanted to do more. I couldn’t overlook the fact that there are many families who are working through this, and the stigma that surrounds these incredible people. With the help of several dedicated individuals from organizations including The Arc of the Ozarks, Camp Barnabas, and Down Syndrome Group of the Ozarks, I was able to make Incredible Buddies a reality.
There were many obstacles to consider. How do we communicate properly with these kids and their families? How do we get the right team for our “Buddy Squad?” What if we fail? What if we mess up? What if we start something we can’t see through? What if we don’t make the impact we hoped for? How do we handle meltdowns with the right spirit and demeanor? I’ll be honest, it was frightening in a way. This is something that we MUST get right.
I asked for help and guidance from Elizabeth Obrey and Angie Perryman, two Family Advocates from The Arc of the Ozarks. Elizabeth shared a personal story with me that had happened years ago. She was visiting Incredible Pizza Company and was hesitant to have her son try our bumper cars. She thought it would be too much for him, but one of our staff encouraged her to let him try. She was assured that the ride could be stopped for her son at any point if necessary. Nathan loved the bumper cars! Elizabeth shared with me how it felt to see her son do something out of his comfort zone for the first time, and seeing the smile on his face. I knew she had a personal interest in helping us so that other families could share that feeling.
After several meetings and many hours later we had a game plan. We would lower the sounds of our games by 60%, eliminate abrasive lights and lighting patterns, and provide noise dampening headphones and dark sunglasses to help with the sounds and lights we couldn’t control. We would install large signs to warn about “Louder zones,” and make handouts and a new website with information on what to expect at an Incredible Buddies event. Elizabeth and Angie would provide a workshop for our Buddy Squad to learn about the senses that are affected by various disabilities and how those sensitivities might manifest themselves through various behaviors. We learned what signs to look for to help us determine whether we need to distract, encourage, or support.
Our hard work paid off. During our first event on March 4th of 2017, we knew we had accomplished something truly incredible. The comments made online and to our team by the families who attended the event showcased the need there is for more acceptance, encouragement, and support. We are thankful for how supportive our guests have been, and are excited to see this program grow.
“Incredible Buddies is a journey. It’s a journey for the families that may have never been able to do something like this before. It’s a journey for these very loving kids, to be able to have a place where they can try new things without fear or anxiety, and it’s a journey for our employees who are learning great things every day in working, playing, and laughing with some truly incredible new friends.” – Zack Martin