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Community Made Safer and Stronger for Families with Special Needs Children

by Sally K.

I am Sally K. and a member of the Catholic Knights in Milwaukee, WI. Every May, America’s Fraternal Benefit Societies put together JOIN HANDS DAY events across the country with the intent of bringing together people of all ages to join hands and improve their communities through projects. This year, we organized the most satisfying JOIN HANDS DAY event yet.

The planning process began some time in January and we were looking for ways to engage everyone in our membership so that everyone had a role to play. We were intrigued by the idea of putting together a Respite Day at the Milwaukee Police and Fire Academy. The day focused on families of children with special needs. Both the children and their siblings were invited to spend the day participating in a variety of activities, while their parents were free to enjoy a much-needed break.

The children watched a fire safety demonstration, toured the Survive Alive House, had the opportunity to sit inside police cars and other safety vehicles, and meet McGruff the Crime Dog. The fire fighters were in full fire gear and showed the children the inner-workings of the place while giving them important lessons on safety. The children loved it!

Other activities included table games, arts & crafts, face painting, bingo with prizes, basketball, movies and a book nook. Lunch and snacks were also enjoyed by the children and the volunteers. 59 children, from 33 families, attended the event. And nearly 100 volunteers offered their time and talents to make the day memorable for the children and their families.

The partnering organizations also helped fund the cost of special transportation, nursing staff, food and other supplies necessary for the event. And two local Catholic Knights branches provided each family with a gift card to a local grocery store.

The event was so heart-warming – it was so wonderful to see people from different backgrounds coming together to care for our community’s families with children with special needs. It felt so good to give these children a time to meet new people: fire fighters, police officers, and regular neighbors. It brought the neighborhood together. It really was the essence of what JOIN HANDS DAY is all about.

Reports state that families of children with special needs are 80% more at risk for divorce, and the children are 30% more at risk for out of home placement. Respite days help families to cope with the stress of caring for these special children.

It was obvious that many of the volunteers developed a special bond with the child whom they were partnered with for the day. It was gratifying to see parents return at the end of the day, very excited to hear about their child’s experience. Several volunteers intend to continue participating in future respite days as a result of their participation in this event.

On May 2, 2009, volunteers from Catholic Knights partnered with volunteers from Catholic Family Life Insurance, Employees’ Mutual Benefit Association, the Volunteer Center of Greater Milwaukee, Inc., New Berlin West High School, Pius High School, and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in this JOIN HANDS DAY project to assist Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin.

This event could be put on anywhere in the country, in your local fire department, library or community center. Please search for like-minded organizations to partner with in your community by searching on Serve.gov: "children" or "safety" or "fire" or "disability" or "schools."

Click here to read more Safety and Security stories.

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