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Summer For All
updated: Aug 17, 2013, 4:00 PM
By Erin Lennon
Groups of kids in swimsuits migrate from the bounce house to the waterslide and back on a blindingly
bright July day at the Westside Community Center's blacktopped parking lot. It's the last day of Summer
Fun camp and kids are running around in groups, ambushing each other with squirt guns and bursting
Alyona Jerdeva, 11, negotiates her way between the cliques with an MP3 player in hand, earbuds in
place, ready to dance.
Counselor Marisa Kaproff, left, with Summer Fun camper Alyona Jerdeva. (Erin Lennon)
She removes her earbuds before hopping in line for her turn on the towering blue waterslide, ordered
especially for this end-of-summer party. A girl walks up to the back of the line, looks past everyone
else in the snaking queue and yells, "Hi, Alyona!" A spark of recognition lights up Alyona's face,
followed by a shy wave before she turns her eyes to the ground again.
Everyone here knows Alyona: campers, counselors, parents. She's a fixture of the City of Santa Barbara
Parks and Recreation Department's summer camps, thanks to its inclusion programs that tailor activities
to fit kids' special needs.
In a few weeks, all of these campers will be back in school, and Alyona, who is developmentally delayed,
will head back to her special-education classroom at Monroe Elementary School.
When Galina Jerdeva moved her family to Santa Barbara from South Pasadena for work three years ago,
she faced the conundrum of finding child care for Alyona when school is not in session. The conundrum
becomes a daunting challenge with a child who has special needs. Alyona may be 11 years old, but her
academic development is currently at second-grade level, says her mother. She struggles with counting
and writing, and can be overly friendly and open with strangers.
"She's complex," says Jerdeva. "She's highly functional, but you have to watch her because she'll always
Alyona walks around the makeshift fun park chatting with kids and stopping to tell yet another camper
what she's listening to on her MP3 player. This is a safe place for Alyona, with trusted counselors and a
lot of friends around her. That's important to her mother, who remembers the day Alyona wandered
away from another child-care program. A group of older kids caught up to her and brought her back.
Jerdeva tried other programs that weren't equipped to handle kids with developmental issues and found
she'd spend half her working day on the phone, either comforting Aylona or the struggling counselors.
"The staff at other programs would call because she was crying, and I would get on the phone, and she
would say, ‘Mommy, I'm hungry," or, ‘Mommy, I'm thirsty," recalls Jerdeva. These simple fixes wore on
her confidence in others. She knew she had to find a program that fit her daughter's needs.
The Parks and Recreation's inclusion program opens the department's schedule of summer
programming to campers with disabilities, offering them social immersion, education and staff trained
to tailor programs to fit special needs.
To read the rest of this article, visit MissionAndState.org
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