Families with special needs enjoy entertainment and demos at picnic

  • Published
  • By Mary Lou Gorny
  • Hilltop Times editor
Approximately 200 people gathered at Centennial Park for the Families with Special Needs Picnic on Saturday, July 30, enjoying pizza, side dishes, cupcakes, demonstrations, games and other entertainment. The event was put on by the Hill Air Force Base Special Needs Team which consists of the Exceptional Family Member Family Support Coordinator, School Liaison Officer, 360 Project and the 75th Medical Group.

"Locomotive" driver Don Higgs, of South Weber, provided rides in a kid-sized train, and many took multiple turns, delighted with the chance to have fun with their families. The fun even drew a few in from nearby with no one turned away.

Among those demonstrating specialized services at the event were representatives from Canine Companions for Independence (CCI).

Bruce Boughton had been invited to talk about how the companion dog his family has had made changes in their lives and the effect it had on his daughter Sofia.

As the crowd listened quietly, Sofia played close by at a sensory table filled with water toys, and the golden Labrador mixed breed dog sat obediently at Bruce's feet.

He reported it has helped his family and that he has noticed certain changes in Sofia. Bruce said as she listens to the simple commands they give the dog, it helps her to understand and improve her own responses to communications.

He also said Sofia responds very well to time with the dog and seems to be able to sit quietly for longer periods with the companionship offered by her dog.

Glenna Foremaster who has raised a puppy for CCI brought her second puppy to the event. She happily reported that her first is soon to graduate from "puppy college" in Oceanside, Calif.

She said the most challenging part of the process is letting them go. "When I see how much help they give and make a difference, that makes it all worth it," Foremaster concluded.

CCI helps place mixed breed Labradors and golden retrievers with families, including a few pure breeds of both types and has demonstrated at previous events at the base.

Inspire Dance Studio and Erik's Martial Arts hosted demonstrations by their students, including some with autism and other special needs. Micah Stone, a student, answered questions about her class. "I like the class," she said. "We do all kinds of dancing. It's really fun."

Her mom, Michelle, talked about how the students enjoy the activities conducted by Julie Bouck, a physical therapist who also works at Primary Children's Medical Center. Michelle said she liked that the dance classes involved lots of movements to help with mobility and helped the students with their particular challenges.

As a parent, she said she has noticed the students gain a little more flexibility.

Loghan Zundel came with volunteers, his family and supplies, as part of an Eagle Scout project.

Bubbles galore could be seen coming from his area of the park as families and kids periodically droped by. His project involved all kinds of activities and sensory games for any interested child.

Zundel, who just turned 17, talked about the motivation and inspiration he had for his project -- his niece -- and her challenges. Not having any response to pain and not using verbal communication were some of the conditions she and her family face as part of a unique syndrome. "She's really the only one on the face of the planet with the kind of syndrome she has," he said.

Tammy Zundel, Loghan's mom, taught her sister sign language to use with her daughter. "My niece doesn't have the ability to speak but understands what you say. It was a way for her to try and communicate better," Tammy said. The approach allows her niece to express herself and experience fewer behavioral frustrations. Although her vocabulary is limited, it allows her to ask for some things and let them know she's hungry.

Tammy said, "Even my youngest, my 10-year-old, probably knows about 300 signs. It's not enough to make real full sentences but you know enough (that) it can get you through."

Loghan's mom is a communications major in school studying sign language. Her own interest began several years ago as a third-grade student.

Loghan was pleased with the experience, describing it as a fun project. "I hope the parents got what they came for and the kids learned something," he said. "Even if they didn't -- it was still fun."

Even the volunteers seemed to appreciate the event and its significance.

Volunteer Staff Sgt. Tyree Austin, 75th Operations Support Squadron, said as he assisted at the kid-sized train, "It's always good to show support for these type of events. They were great, I had a good time."