Program to engage special needs community in service projects

Published 12:11 am Monday, January 25, 2016

A new program is building good citizenship through engaging the special needs community in outreach projects in the area.

The ECHO (Empowering Citizens, Helping Others) program was recently launched as a way for those with developmental disabilities to give back through service projects and other initiatives, said Sandra Buckman, director of the Arc of Beaufort County.

The idea came from a group in New Bern called the Weekend Club, a volunteer group made up of those with special needs, who host service projects such as food drives for soup kitchens, Buckman said.

“That’s why we want to be involved because there are needs in the community and (the special needs community) wants to give back,” Buckman said. “They see themselves as receiving a lot, and they want to help.”

The new program is part of the Civitan on the Pamlico group, an organization interested in taking care of people in the area, especially those with developmental disabilities. It also builds good citizenship by providing a volunteer force to meet needs in the community, according to Buckman. The club will partner with the Arc of Beaufort County, the Beaufort/Hyde Special Olympics and other organizations to get the ECHO program’s membership up and running.

Buckman said the new program will also include involvement from the caregivers and parents of those with special needs to accomplish things in the community.

The group’s first project will consist of making Valentine’s Day cards for people and organizations that have given back to those who have special needs.

Buckman said another good aspect of the program is that it will provide social opportunities for those in the special needs community. Many have very little opportunities to socialize and get to know others, making the program beneficial in more ways than one.

“We want to find out what the community needs are, and we want to use our people with special needs to fill some of those community needs,” Buckman said. “There’s a big need for volunteers because people are so active in the workplace and with hobbies, it’s hard to find volunteers. So we think we have a group that will be ready to volunteer. We’ll be very open for people to let us know what they may need for their organization or community and we want to work with and through churches, as well. It will be a community effort.”

The first official meeting will be held Feb. 11 at 6 p.m. at the Blind Center of Washington. Benefactors involved in the Weekend Club in New Bern have agreed to sponsor the first 50 members from the special needs community and pay their membership dues. The local club will host fundraisers to pay for the dues of additional members, Buckman said.