SACKVILLE, N.B. – Emma Kinloch wakes up every Saturday bright and early with a smile on her face.
While most university students typically like to spend their weekend catching up on their sleep, Kinloch and about 50 of her fellow Mount Allison University students dedicate their Saturday mornings to SMILE, a progam that sees volunteers working one-on-one with children with special needs.
“The first time you go, you just fall in love with it. It’s such a great program,” said Kinloch, a second-year student and co-ordinator of SMILE.
“And anyone involved in the program will tell you that even if it was at six in the morning, they’d still get up and do it.”
The SMILE (Sensory Motor Instructional Leadership Experience) program, which will head into its 14th year this fall, is a partnership project presented by the Cumberland YMCA and Cumberland Early Intervention Program in Amherst.
Kinloch said the students are paired up with a buddy who has a mental or physical disability or abnormality and works one-on-one with them, focusing on speech and language development, working on fine motor skills, facilitating social skills through turn-taking and sharing, developing self-help skills as basic as shoe-tying, or working on body awareness and cognitive concepts.
An hour is spent in the YMCA gymnasium while another hour is spent in the pool.
The participants’ needs vary and the activities are specifically geared toward each individual. There are those who have been diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome and spina bifida, while others are delayed because of prematurity, visual impairments, congenital heart defects, or for reasons as yet undiagnosed.
“The first time you go, you just fall in love with it. It’s such a great program." - Emma Kinloch, a second-year Mount A student and co-ordinator of SMILE
Kinloch said the greatest part of the program is the friendships that are made between the university students and the kids.
“It becomes a really great connection ... there’s a bond you create.”
But Kinloch is worried for the viability of the program. Given the economic recession and lack of grant funding, SMILE is running into financial troubles.
So she’s turning to the campus and the local community for help.
The SMILE students have organized a five-kilometre walk/run for Saturday to raise funds for the program.
“Without this, it’s questionable whether it would happen this fall,” she said.
Kinloch is inviting everyone to come out for this event, which will begin at 10 a.m., in front of the Wallace McCain Student Centre on York Street in Sackville.
Participants are asked to register at 9 a.m., or they can access a registration form online at tinyurl.com/ smilerace or at the SAC office in the student centre before Saturday (there is a $10 registration fee).
Kinloch said it’s a great time of year for people to come out for a walk/run to start getting active for a great cause.
“And for students, it promotes a healthy lifestyle during stressful exam time.”