Young Athletes program encourages social, motor skills among special needs children
Three little girls shouted Amber Zeien’s name as she pulled up to Mary McGuire Elementary School in her Chevy Cavalier full of toys and games.
Zeien, a Mount Pleasant native, runs the Young Athletes program which is open for special-needs children from the ages two to seven. About eight volunteers are CMU students who enjoy spending time with the children.
Every Monday from 5:45 to 7 p.m., Central Michigan University students and special-needs children get together in the school’s gymnasium to play games.
“This affects the children, because it helps them with their motor and social skills,” Zeien said. “It also gets the kids used to other special-needs children and loud noises.”
Elizabeth Hyman, 5, gets volunteers pumped up for the night by running around and giving out high fives, circling the group about 10 times until they all head into the gym.
“This got started a couple of years ago,” Zeien said. “It was started for the special education majors, but not everyone who volunteers is a special education major.”
Zeien has a lot of experience with special needs children, as two of her sisters have Down syndrome.
Zeien’s mother, Sheryl Hyman, sits along the bleachers and watches her children interact with the students and other special-needs children.
“I have definitely noticed a difference in my children since coming here,” Hyman said. “They are now so open to this and participate 100 percent. At first, they were very skeptical.”
Clinton Township senior Katie Knupp said she joined the program after learning about it from a friend.
“My future job is to teach a special-needs class, so I decided to volunteer to get some experience with the kids,” she said.
Knupp, who graduates this year, ran the program before Zeien took over this year.
“Some of these children have been here since I began coming,” Knupp said. “It’s amazing to see them grow and become stronger and more outgoing. I’m definitely going to miss them a lot.”
Toward the end of the night, a small group formed to play a game of Duck, Duck, Goose, while some other children played with building blocks and basketballs. The parents seated along the side of the gym talked with other parents as they observed their children play.
“I think this program helps students see how unique every child is,” Zeien said. “And it shows them that they are kind and amazing kids.”
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