By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – St. Richard Parish has officially kicked off an effort to build a new facility for the Special Kids Program as well as a Boy Scout building and parking lot. The building will be located on property already owned by the parish, across from the main church building.
The Special Kids Program serves young men and women with intellectual and emotional disabilities. Younger students take classes in St. Richard School while the older kids, age 13-21, go to a parish-based program currently located in a house owned by the parish. There, teachers Kim Turner, Lindsay Blaylock and Agnes Morgan build individualized education plans for each student based on their strengths and needs. “It is the best place to be,” said Turner. “These kids are happy. The program offers a calm, stable, happy place and they are learning over here,” she added.
Because each student’s needs and goals are different, they all get very personal attention to learn life skills such as cooking, shopping, cleaning and how to navigate social situations. The students visit the public library, plan menus, shop for, cook and serve meals to special guests and run a small gift booth in the parish office. During the academic portion of the day they will all focus on one theme, but each will get a personalized lesson. “Let’s say we’re talking about money. Some kids will be counting money from the gift booth and talking about how to use it while others will just be recognizing forms of money,” Turner explained. When the students go shopping each one has a specific job. One may push the cart while another uses a written shopping list. Still another may use pictures to find needed items.
Every year the students host a golf tournament to raise money to support the program. This year the tournament was Thursday, Oct. 17. Turner said they prepared for weeks so the students would know what was expected of them. They have also planted a garden from which they can harvest their own food.
This is the only program in the diocese for children and young adults with these types of disabilities and Turner said the fact that it has a Catholic base is one of the aspects she loves best about it. Pastor Father Michael O’Brien agrees. He said the program is good for the whole St. Richard community, including the typical kids who take classes with the special kids in the separate elementary school program. “It is so good for them to go to school in that atmosphere,” he said. “It’s pro-life all across the board,” he went on to say.
The new development would also include a place for the Boy Scout troops to meet. That program was meeting in another house owned by the parish, but the structure is in need of repair. The special kids building, already named Farrell Hall in honor of Msgr. Patrick Farrell, who founded the Special Kids Program more than 30 years ago, would be connected by a porch to the Boy Scout building. An architect will design each to fit the needs of each program. Turner said updating the design would allow the program, which currently serves seven students, to expand.
A third goal of the project is to add off-street parking for events. Father O’Brien explained that the parish already owns some empty lots across the street. Currently people coming to events in Foley and Glynn Halls have limited parking along the street. Parish leaders decided to join the three efforts into one so the whole development could be cohesive. It will include landscaping and fit into the neighborhood.
Those who wish to donate can contact the parish. Donations can be earmarked specifically to each of the three projects. For more information, call the parish office at 601-366-2335.