PARRISH -- The Parrish Branch of the Manatee YMCA has moved to fill the void that families of special needs children often encounter when they turn 21.
Called SOAR -- Special Organized Adult Recreation -- the YMCA program offers two hours of socialization, games and crafts, and physical activity every Monday for special needs adults.
"It's very much a social thing," said Stacey McKee, executive director for the Parrish Branch YMCA, 12214 U.S. 301.
On a recent afternoon, SOAR participants were shooting hoops on an outdoor basketball court, sometimes with impressive pin-point precision, and sometimes consistently wide of the net.
Whether a hit or a miss, the reaction was the same: big smiles, and lots of laughter.
Afterward, the group, ac
companied by staff and volunteers, moved inside the Parrish YMCA building and sat around a table making crafts, and light-hearted small talk.
"I feel like sometimes I get more out of the program than they do," said Amy Skillman, a YMCA staff member who heads up the program. "They come in every Monday in a good mood. They just want to socialize and be part of something."
SOAR had five participants last Monday, and Skillman believes the Parrish YMCA could probably accommodate three times as many.
"We wanted to start small to see how it would go," McKee said. SOAR is modeled on a program offered by The Exceptional Foundation in Birmingham, Ala., which several of the Parrish staff members visited.
The Exceptional Foundation is billed as a special place for those with special needs.
McKee believes there may be other families in the Parrish-North River area who aren't aware there is a program for special needs adults.
"We want them to come and check us out," McKee said.
Even though the free program has room to grow, there have already been requests to add a second day of activities, McKee said.
Asked what participants like best about the program, several said they like the singing or the crafts, and one looked at the other clients and said, "It's all of you guys."
The SOAR program is for persons with intellectual, physical and/or emotional disabilities, according to the Parrish YMCA web page,
For information, call McKee at 941-798-9622, ext 203, or email Skillman at email@example.com.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.