From the outside, the building located near the back of Bicentennial Park is a hodge-podge of two awkwardly connected structures, with the original, brick-faced building standing in stark contrast to the more modern yellow building it’s connected with.
But inside, the connection is seamless, with shiny floors and clean walls joining the two buildings into one.
Much like Daisy Center building, the Daisy Program also seeks to seamlessly join two elements that, in another day and age, may not have always been a perfect fit by providing a full range of recreational opportunities for children and young adults with special needs. Through summer activities and sports, arts and music, field trips and even evening activities, the Daisy Program provides a “level playing field” for participants of any age.
“Any activity that you would find in a mainstream program, we try to modify, so that the kids succeed at it,” said Recreation Supervisor Fred Smith. “It would be pointless to have them fail at it."
Participants can go to the Brunswick Zone to bowl on Tuesday evenings and attend fitness classes at the Raritan Valley YMCA on Wednesday evenings. On Thursdays, teens can relax and have some fun with their peers at the Daisy Center in Bicentennial Park. The teen program addresses not only the special needs of the participants, but a variety of other issues that can come along with a teenager.
“The neat part is that the kids, and they may have been with us for many years, it’s their night.” said Smith about the Thursday evening programs. “They look forward to it.”
Programs also are held from October through May on Saturdays, and during the summer. The summer program allows participants who receive special education services to take part in a six week daily program in which they swim, dance, exercise, take parts in sports and arts and crafts, and almost everything else you can find during a typical “summer camp.”
“Most of the kids aren’t able to do some of these things, they can’t engage in activities that are a normal part of growing up,” said Smith. ‘We set the stage for them to have opportunities to do that. Everybody comes in smiling.”
When it began, the Daisy Program was staffed by a few volunteers, but it grew quickly, and paid seasonal staff work regularly with the program. The counselors are also part of what makes the program so special.
“They give them as much independence as they can and they’re excellent at what they do,” said Smith. “They look at the abilities (of a participant) and make the activities work for the kids.”
Another cornerstone of the program is the Daisy Association, a group of parents that work to supplement the program financially. The association advises on special needs programming, provides funding for evening programs, activity fees and scholarships and is a source of support for parents.
“The township provides a substantial amount of the budget, and the Parents association provides for where the budget falls short,” said Smith.
The association is incredibly important to the program, said Smith, probably because they know what they and others like them go through, and what it’s like to have a place they can send their kids to that is safe, fun and caring.
“It gives the parents a well earned respite, an opportunity to recharge their batteries,” said Smith.