Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) is calling it “Little Critters.” The program will be divided into two streams, “the little rascals” for five to eight-year-olds, and “the fisher cats” for children aged nine to 12.
The program will run weekly through May and June and will provide children with the opportunity to participate in a wide range of outdoor activities, including soccer, basketball, badminton, as well as less traditional activities like frisbee golf, parachute, trampoline, water games at the splash pad, and mini putt.
“We wanted to make something that was really nice for the kids,” said manager of assisted living services (ALS) Mackenzie Whyte, adding that a lot of children with special needs don’t get the opportunity to play in sports leagues.
The idea for the program comes out of a November meeting with service providers that identified a gap in community programming for children with disabilities.
KSCS aims to have a worker from the Family and Wellness Center present available at most sessions for “semi-structured conversations” with parents of children with special needs, Whyte said.
“Integration works for some, and it doesn’t work for everybody,” said Whyte. She hopes that Little Critters will provide a safe space for children with special needs to play, socialize, and be active – without judgement.
Many Kahnawa’kehró:non youth with disabilities attend schools off-reserve because schools in town don’t have the resources to accommodate their needs, said Whyte. She hopes that Little Critters will allow these kids to make friends with other Kahnawa’kehró:non.
The sessions will be planned by Otiohkwano:ron Montour, who is a trained coach, with assistance from other KSCS life-skills workers.
“We’re gonna adjust the activities to the individual interests and abilities,” said Cynthia McGregor, ALS team leader at KSCS.
McGregor said that KSCS wants the children to feel part of a team. Participants will be given uniforms with their logo on it – a raccoon for the rascals, and fisher cats for the older children.
Parents wishing to register their children can call the Independent Living Center (ILC) at 450-632-7730 weekdays between 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to complete a brief intake process. Spots will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are 12 spots available for each age group, and KSCS expects them to fill up fast.
KSCS is also open to parental volunteers, according to Whyte.
“We’re excited for this program,” she said.
The program is funded by Heritage Canada’s Sports and Social Development in Indigenous Communities (SSDIC) grant.
As of now, Little Critters is a pilot project, but the goal is that with enough community interest, the program will expand into a year-round model.