Before SOAR, there was effectively nowhere for young adults with special needs to go after they leave the school system, says Pauline Ledsom.
“There was nothing,” Ledsom, the program’s executive director, said.
SOAR, which stands for Special Organized Adult Recreation, began as a volunteer-based pilot program at Manatee YMCA’s small Parrish campus in early 2016, but now it’s expanding to Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton.
“We decided that really we need to roll this out to Manatee County, like a wide thing rather than keeping it in Parrish, which is awesome,” she said.
Currently, SOAR has 12 participants. Ledsom hopes that between all three campuses, that number reaches 80. It isn’t limited to just young adults, but any adult with an intellectual, emotional or physical disability.
“We never turn anybody away,” Ledsom said.
The program will now include longer hours and more activities, like field trips and swimming.
Starting in January, the program will run from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. There are two options: two days a week at one branch for $160 per month, or five days a week at all branches that costs $400 per month.
For qualifying participants who can’t pay, scholarships will be offered.
Applications are currently being accepted for participants, who can sign up online at www.manateeymca.org or visit any of the organizations’ welcome centers.
“I am so excited to see this grow,” she said. “There are so many people who need it. Not just the participants, but the families also.”