By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
A bad experience at a local event led Christina Treece to help create Friends of BVS, a parent-teacher organization for Blanchard Valley School that hosts activities for children with developmental disabilities in Hancock County.
Since its debut last year, the organization has held fundraisers, fall and winter festivals and is beginning to offer sensory-friendly movie nights.
“Our position is we’re trying to build an inclusive community for all children with development differences,” said Treece, 35.
She and her husband, John, have two sons with autism, Gatlin, 6, and Draiman, 4. Both boys are students at Blanchard Valley School.
The festivals sponsored by the Friends group were designed for children with special needs, but are open to the public, Treece said.
“And the great thing about that is when you bring your typical children, you’re bringing them around special needs so they see how special needs kids are and it’s not weird, it’s just normal,” she said. “And that’s how you build inclusion.”
Friends of BVS works closely with Blanchard Valley Center and the Hancock County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The group serves as the parent-teacher organization for both Blanchard Valley School and the Center for Autism and Dyslexia.
Treece said parents of special needs children need that extra help.
“In these special needs schools, parents are run down. They’re tired,” she said.
The teachers are also overwhelmed and overworked, Treece said.
“But we forget that these kids are just kids. They should have every right to do all the things that any typical school would do. So that’s where we come in. We’re trying to do that,” she said.
Treece said she got the idea for the group after attending a fall festival with her children two years ago. The family had attended the event the year before, but it was smaller with fewer people.
“The boys did OK. It was a little rough, but they did OK, so I thought sure we could go again,” she said.
But when they got to the festival the second year, there were large crowds of people.
“The place was packed. And Draiman is the type he likes to hide in the corner and shy away from people. So instantly when we got there, he was pulling away. He was freaking out about the number of people,” said Treece.
Because he was only 2 and the festival was located next to a busy road, Treece had a backpack leash on Draiman to keep him safe.
“Of course he was already pulling and fighting. And of course, your kid’s on a leash. Everybody stares at you like, why is your kid on a leash?” she said.
“Draiman just really didn’t understand it. I think he was overwhelmed. He was excited. He just wanted to run back and forth and people were just kind of staring at me,” she said.
Treece said they had problems on the bounce house attraction because Gatlin didn’t understand there was a time limit.
“He refused to get off, so then they wouldn’t let anybody else on until he got off, and that was an ordeal,” she said. “And then Draiman ran over there and he wanted to get on. Of course he didn’t want to wait in line. He didn’t understand waiting in line so he’s throwing himself on the ground kicking and screaming.”
She decided it would be better to leave.
“All I kept thinking was I just wanted them to have fun, that’s all I wanted. And I made this huge mistake taking them to this thing. What was I thinking? And I just felt so defeated and so sad.”
Treece later posted her feelings on Facebook.
“I said ‘I wish there was a fall fest for children with autism.’ I wish there was a fall fest for kids like mine where there wasn’t time limits on the bounce house, where people didn’t stare at you because your kid’s on a leash or they don’t understand why your kid’s having a meltdown,” she said.
She got several “likes” and support from family and friends. Then someone suggested that Treece have her own festival.
“Someone else said that would be a great idea. You should really just start your own. There’s enough organizations in town, I bet if we all worked together, something could get done,” she said. “At the time I thought that would be awesome, but, how would you begin to do that? I’m just a mom. I don’t know how you do that.”
Several months later, Treece was asked to be part of Blanchard Valley School’s PTO group.
“I came to find out the PTO is mostly one person because there’s not enough parents. And as a special needs parent it’s very difficult to get involved in anything beyond your own personal life,” she said. “So I decided I’m going to do this. I’m going to try it. The worst that will happen is I’ll fail, right?”
Treece talked to Steve Gayton who was principal of Blanchard Valley School at the time and told him about her experience at the fall festival.
“He just looked at me, and you could just see he got it,” she said. “He’s like, let’s do this. We can do this.”
Gayton said the festival could be held at the school.
“He said, you can have your bounce house. I don’t care how many bounce houses you want. You don’t have to have any time limits on it,” said Treece. “He was so awesome.”
“So that’s where it started,” she said. “I started planning for this fall fest.”
As she got more involved in PTO, she learned that it was difficult to plan events because not all of the students stay at the school; some go to different schools because they’re at different levels in their development.
“I got to thinking, we need a PTO that includes everyone, that is all the special needs community,” she said.
Treece pitched the idea to BVS superintendent Connie Ament.
“I said what if we create a new group and call it Friends of BVS, and we call it ‘Friends’ because you don’t have to go to BVS. Your child doesn’t have to be a student there. All you have to have is some kind of a special need and you can be a part of it. And we all work together and we start doing events,” she said.
Ament approved, as well as new principal Kathy Wilson who helped Treece write the constitution and get the group started.
“We now have a board. It’s a much bigger thing,” Treece said.
The first fall fest was held in September and included pony and train rides, a bounce house, photo booth, face and pumpkin painting and concessions.
“There were tons of people out there. I had no idea the first one would be that successful,” said Treece.
In addition to the nine board members, she also has a Facebook group that does a lot of planning for school activities like bakery bingo, an ice cream social, Doughnuts for Dad and Muffins for Moms, and public activities like the fall and winter fests. They also purchase some of the equipment for the school and provide resources for the community.
“It’s been about a year and we’ve done a lot,” said Treece.
She thinks the changes have made things better and the children have benefited.
“Draiman doesn’t hide in the corner anymore,” she said. “He has gone to every one of these events, and he is so much better dealing with people. It has made a huge impact on both of my boys, so, if for nothing else, I have to keep doing it for them.”
Treece was recently recognized for her work and named an “Everyday Hero” by the Free Country apparel company in New York City. Treece’s friend, Rosita Harper, nominated her for the award.
She received a plaque and a jacket Tuesday during the school’s book fair. As a nominated hero, she’s also in the running for the grand prize where the winner receives a cash prize, as well as a donation for the charity of their choice.
“I’m not used to attention,” said Treece. “I always tell my husband I would like to be like the Wizard of Oz. I want to be behind the curtain, not out in front. If they could just give the award to Friends of BVS, I would be happy.”
Online: http://friendsofbvs.org/ https://www.facebook.com/bvsfriends Wolf: 419-427-8419 Send an E-mail to Jeannie Wolf
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