Therapeutic Recreation program participants celebrate 15th anniversary
Apex Park and Recreation District launched the Therapeutic Recreation program in 2001 to meet the needs of community members with disabilities through specialized and inclusive activities. On Saturday, April 23, participants, staff and volunteers gathered to celebrate 15 years of fun and friendship.
Julie Hines, the program’s coordinator since day one, says “about half of the participants have been with us since the beginning.” For that reason, hugs were the primary activity at the party as long-time TR program participants and families greeted each other and enjoyed ice cream treats. The group also enjoyed the display of more than a hundred photos commemorating a wide range of favorite activities, from special events to fitness to bowling to memories of cherished friends.
“There’s a strong social connection, and even among staff, it often feels more like a friend relationship than a staff-client relationship,” Julie said. She described one conversation with a client, who was surprised to learn that Julie’s job was coordinating the Therapeutic Recreation program. “Sometimes we’re just like cool friends that take them places,” she said with a laugh.
Programming is geared toward ages 15 and older, as younger children are often involved with school activities. “After they are out of high school, they have less opportunity for social activities without their parents,” Julie said.
As the first and only TR coordinator, Julie came into the job just after she finished up her internship for a degree in Recreation Management with an emphasis in Therapeutic Recreation.
A former youth sports coach at North Jeffco (now Apex) Park and Recreation District, Julie learned of the job opening and thought it might be a good opportunity to practice interviewing. She landed the job, created the program from the ground up, and it has exceeded her expectations. Currently it serves about 250 individuals; this includes those who participate just in the TR activities, and also those who take part in inclusive programs offered through other divisions: adaptive aquatics, summer camps, wheelchair tennis, skating and more. “Those programs operate within other divisions, but if needed, our staff can support these activities with information, contacts, or help in any way,” Julie said.
TR activities are designed to appeal to a wide range of interests, and in order to have a good size group, Julie often runs programs in cooperation with other cities and recreation districts. “For example, activities like bowling and karaoke night are more fun with a bigger crowd, and outings with canoes and kayaks are easier to manage when sharing expenses and resources. Most of our cooperative programs are with Wheat Ridge, Lakewood and other nearby communities so no one has to drive too far,” Julie explained.
In the past 15 years, numbers have grown steadily, and other positive changes have also taken place. “Since the program started, it’s been great to see the mindset of the community change through inclusive programs. Everyone is much more comfortable around each other now,” she said. Julie also appreciates the ongoing involvement from community volunteers, such as students from Warren Tech, the Regis College pharmaceutical fraternity, and local teenagers.
One thing that hasn’t changed in 15 years is the program’s main goal of encouraging fun. “On many occasions, we’re balancing abilities with challenges, but fun is the number one priority,” Julie said. “Whether programs are educational, promoting exercise and good eating habits, working out…we work hard but we still have fun.”
The best thing about the program is the loyalty and support of long-standing, repeat clients, Julie said. “We want them to come back..and they do!”
Congratulations to Julie, staff, volunteers and participants in the TR program as they celebrate their 15th anniversary and head out into summer adventures. For more about Therapeutic Recreation activities at Apex PRD, visit http://apexprd.org/activities/therapeutic-recreation.