“I dreaded summer break. It took my boys out of their routine at school, and I always knew the fall semester would be full of challenges… if we survived the summer,” says Lindy May, mother of Brodie and Parker, her sons who participate in YESS, or Youth Education and Summer Socialization Program, organized by The Arc in Wichita, Kan.
Counting down the days
Every year thousands of students count down the days till summer break. For many parents the countdown comes with concern and dread not knowing yet what to do with their child for 10-plus weeks. This is especially challenging when the child has special needs. For many parents finding quality care for their children is a never-ending task, especially as their children become teens and preteens.
Most parents can’t afford to quit their jobs to stay home with a child, and most typical summer programs are not equipped to provide the level of supervision and support needed for those living with a variety of developmental disabilities.
But people in and around Sedgwick County, Kan., not only have an option, they also have an experience. For more than 25 years, YESS has combined education with recreation and socialization to provide care and an educational experience full of smiles and laughs. Each week has its own theme to make the educational morning portion and afternoon recreation portion come alive.
When Kansas celebrated its 150th anniversary, YESS kicked off its summer with Kansas History week. Students read stories about the Old West, sorted and counted buffalos in math and built covered wagons. In the afternoon, the students went to “Cowtown” old west museum, rode horseback, canoed across the Arkansas River and tried their hand at archery.
The May family found how important programs like YESS can be.
A chance to socialize
“Before the YESS program, when we went back to school in the fall, it would take six to nine weeks for the boys to get back to where they were before summer break,” said Lindy May. “Since they have been in YESS, they haven’t lost any ground over the summer months.
It’s about developing friendships, trying new experiences and making memories.
“In YESS they have a structured education over the summer as well as invaluable socialization opportunities.”
At YESS every child is loved and valued, something too many do not feel in their own schools, says Kevin Fish, Arc executive director.
At YESS you can be the top dog, you can run for student council and serve as president and present to the mayor and county commission. You can do the announcements and lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
An amazing field trip every day
“No one wants to go to school year round, but at YESS it is more than just sitting in a class room,” says Fish. “It’s about developing friendships, trying new experiences and making memories. Field trip days were always the best days in school, and at YESS we have an amazing field trip every day.”
Says Arc Program Director Marty Rothwell, “The top two complaints we hear each yearat YESS are ‘my child is just exhausted when he gets home’ (which isn’t really a complaint) and ‘why is there not a program like YESS for my other kids?’”
Programs like YESS are not easily replicated.
“It takes an agency like The Arc willing to make it happen and partners who believe in what you are doing,” says Rothwell.
The Wichita Park Department, Wichita (USD 259) public schools, Sedgwick County and United Way have been a part of making YESS happen since the program began.
They all said ‘Yes’
Rothwell took the vision for the YESS program to each, not expecting to the level of support to come. Instead, they all enthusiastically said “Yes,” which inspired the program name.
What do the parents have to say?
Here are a few comments:
“We could not survive without YESS. It is our favorite time of year. My child does not want to miss a day of it either. It is so great that they get out and experience everything in the community. My son has been a lot more places than I have!”
A very lucky guy
“The program is greater than anything I could have ever dreamed of. He is a very lucky guy and I am a very grateful parent.”
“The programs that the Arc provides are priceless in terms of what it has done to help our family. It’s not easy raising a child and when you add the challenges we as parents of a special needs child can and do face — we are grateful we can turn to a place like The Arc for help. Fun and laughter are priceless!”