WORDS Catherine Frederick with Community Connections
IMAGES courtesy Heli Mistry
In 2005, Todd and Amy Denton, owners of Pediatrics Plus Therapy Services, along with members of their staff, saw that many children with disabilities did not have the opportunity to play sports and participate in the arts like their siblings and peers. Recognizing this need, Community Connections, a 501 C3 nonprofit organization, was created to provide activities for children with disabilities as well as support for their families.
While most of Community Connections’ activities are geared toward special needs children ages five to eighteen, some programs offered start as young as age three and go to age twenty-five. One of the great aspects of Community Connections is that it is family centered. There are parent/caregiver virtual support groups, family events, and lots of different in-person sport and arts programming. Siblings can attend the Community Connections programming, too!
Community Connections first launched in the River Valley in 2021 and programs now include bowling, dance, teen and young adult support groups, and a family fishing derby!
Community Connections is proud to partner with Arkansas Colleges of Health Education to offer a free bowling program on Monday nights at Bowling World in Fort Smith. Children and youth with special needs ages five to eighteen (and siblings, too!) can come and bowl in a safe environment. Volunteers are there to assist when needed, but mostly, to be bowling buddies to the participants.
Beginning April 24, Community Connections and Abstract Dance Company will offer a weekly inclusive dance program for children and youth ages seven to eighteen. One family member (parent or sibling) or a friend will be asked to be the dance partner for child/youth for the duration of rehearsals with a recital in June.
In partnership with Rise Counseling and Diagnostics, Community Connections offers a teen/young adult (ages thirteen to twenty-five) support group via Zoom on Tuesdays. This program focuses on self-esteem, managing emotions and thoughts, and building communication through virtual games and lots of socializing.
For those of all ages who love to fish, don’t miss the Family Fishing Derby for kids through adults with special needs and their family and friends on April 9! Community Connections has partnered with The Arc of Fort Smith to host the derby at Carol Ann Cross Park, in Fort Smith. Lunch is provided, however, if participants have special dietary needs, they are encouraged to bring their own picnic lunch. Fishing equipment will be provided for those who do not have their own.
All Community Connections’ events are free due to the generosity of their supporters, but participants must register online. In addition to current programs, sports camps will be offered soon! Programs for soccer, STEM, as well as additional family events like an evening out at a water park and an arcade this summer are in the works. Ideas and suggestions for future programming are always welcome!
Community Connections’ programs are run by volunteers, and more are always needed, and welcomed. You do not have to be an expert in the sport, music or the arts. The only requirement is that you have a heart for kids!
Details on programs, donations and volunteer opportunities can be found online at communityconnectionsar.org.
Program Registration: communityconnectionsar.org/all-programs
Volunteers: Jessica Nichols, Director of Programs at Jessica@CommunityConnectionsAR.org