JACKSON – St. Richard Catholic Church held a blessing and groundbreaking for the start of the new special kids’ and boy scout building on Sunday, March 26 after the 10:30 a.m. Mass.
The new 3,000 square foot building, located across the street from the church, will be completed for the start of the 2017 fall semester.
The area for special kids will contain a classroom with one-on-one areas, art room, kitchen and work room. The scout space will have a large room for meeting and group activity along with three smaller classrooms for meeting, and ample storage room for all their camping supplies.
Kim Turner is the director of the Special Kids Program at St. Richard. The program is designed to help high school students with developmental disabilities. Anthony Warren, senior staff writer for the Northside Sun recently interviewed her about the program the new facility.
What exactly is the Special Kids Program?
“It’s a ministry that provides individual programs to students with developmental disorders. The programs depend on each student. Each child’s goal is different. One might strive to study academics, while one strives to learn life skills and live alone. That’s the ministry.”
Is the program part of the St. Richard school?
“No; the elementary does have a ‘Special Kids’ program, but it’s separate from us. We are a separate ministry of the church.”
What ages do you serve?
“Ages 13 to 21, and we are looking at (expanding) to include an adult program as well.”
I want to go back and ask about the adult program. Why is St. Richard looking at doing that? Also, what age group will the new program serve?
“There seems to be a need. There are great places out there, but some of the students like our program and we just see a need. We’re just in the beginning process of it. We’re not sure where it’s going to lead yet.”
Is the program free for students?
“No, there is a tuition.”
Is Special Kids open only to Catholic students?
“Absolutely not. Anyone is welcome.”
What disabilities do you serve?
“We have a range of children with special needs. There’s not one specific.”
How many instructors do you have?
“We have three teachers, and then we have a lot of volunteers who come in and teach art, dance. Everything is very scheduled, so we have times for them to come in and work with (the students).”
In addition to tuition, how does Special Kids raise money?
“We have a golf tournament every year. This year, it will be October 5. We also have contributors (who give) throughout the year. We have a huge raffle for a weekend at Perdido Key that also raises money. The golf tournament is at Deerfield.”
Let’s switch gears and talk about the new building project. Why is a new facility needed?
“We were in a building that we have just outgrown. We have taken that property and are building the special kids building and also a Boy Scout building. We needed more space and that would be more of an educational space to benefit students.”
Is the building just for improving the experience for current students, or do you hope to expand Special Kids to serve more teens?
“Both; right now, we don’t have a limit of how many students we’ll take, but we have a goal of having 10 or 12. We are creeping up to that number now, and we just need more space. We’ve designed the new building to be the best for these students. There’s a kitchen area, a social area, a classroom area, and also – this is my favorite part – an open space that will provide for one-on-one interaction with students, where teachers can work with the children, and where children can have areas for iPads, art (and the like).”
How are students chosen to participate in Special Kids?
“We meet with parents and students and decide if it’s a good fit for them. We talk to parents about the goals they have for their children, and if our program fits those goals, they’re in.”
How long are students with the Special Kids program?
“Nobody’s left since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here four years now. (Students) finish out at 21. Hopefully, we’ll get an adult program next year and (graduates) will go into that, if that is their desire.”
Is Special Kids’ objective to make all of its students independent, in terms of being able to live on their own?
“I wish I could say there is one specific goal, but each child is different. If it is the desire of the student and parents that the student should live independently, then yes, that is what we’re going for. There may be some children where that is not the goal. They may want to learn (to prepare) their own food. We strive for students to be as independent as possible.”
(Interview reprinted from the Northside Sun Newspaper.)