Support for parents with special-needs kids

When 14-year-old Gabriel arrives at the doors of the Monkland Community Centre in N.D.G., he is greeted by a chorus of cheering friends. The autistic boy’s face lights up, and his mother Jennifer Damiani knows he will spend the day surrounded by competent and caring staff in a safe environment, where he is accepted for who he is.

The joy he experiences is because of a support and respite program called Monkland Special Needs launched last May by director Nick Neri and partners Osahon Benjamin Idonije and Ornella Hemingway. “This is a place where kids can run around while learning and socializing without having unnecessary constraints,” Hemingway said.

Neri has spent his life working with special-needs children, with 25 years as a teacher at Summit School and where Idonije has been working for 13 years. Hemingway has worked with children in various capacities and was trained as a nurse in Europe.

The core program features swimming, hiking in nature parks in the Montreal area, and gym. Facilitators give dance and music classes. Day trips are regularly scheduled and include museum visits, bowling, apple picking and shows at the Bell Centre.

“The kids spend most of the day at school or in their day programs sitting, so they need to move,” Idonije said. “We go outside every day.” It also offers a variety of programming alternatives for special-needs children and young adults, including PED day camps and help in emergency situations. There is also a sleepover respite available on weekends. “The parents come to rely on this program,” said Maggie Caruso, a social worker at Summit School. “This is the perfect program for parents who need to keep their kids busy or who need respite.”

For more information, call 514-983-2349 or visit monklandspecialneeds.com