The Special Buddy program, a service offered by the Verona Recreation Department that matches special needs children with volunteer counselors in the town’s summer playground program, will operate a little differently this year.
According to Recreation Department Director Jim Cunningham, due to budget constraints, the program will no longer have a dedicated, paid outside coordinator. However, he says, his department is still committed to providing the service for special needs children who request it.
In past years, the Recreation department paid The Arc of New Jersey, an advocacy group for individuals with disabilities, to train teen volunteers to be special needs counselors and coordinate the day-to-day staffing and support of the program during the summer. Special buddies then shadowed children whose parents indicated they would need extra attention in order to participate in the summer playgrounds. This year, the Rec department will still hire special buddy volunteers and these volunteers will still receive the same amount of expert training, but it will be done at the Verona Community Center. Queries about the program will be handled in-house by the playgrounds coordinator.
In addition to preserving the program for special needs children, Cunningham is also preserving a valuable summer work opportunity for Verona teens. Though special buddies do not get paid, they receive training and experience working with children. ‘That’s what’s so great about the program,” says Cunningham. “It’s not just about what the little kids receive; it’s also about what the kids who give the help receive.”
It’s not too late to sign up to be a special buddy. Though all the spots for regular counselors have already been filled, there are still openings for special buddies. Teens must be at least 14 and entering high school in the fall. For information on working as a special buddy or requesting that your child be assigned a special buddy for the summer, contact the Recreation department at 973-857-4830.