LANDOVER – Residents with disabilities brought in the Christmas season with a Holiday Hop event hosted by the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation. On Dec. 4, the Holiday Hop, organized by Natalie Smart, a therapeutic recreation specialist and Veronica Burke, a therapeutic recreation coordinator, provided holiday entertainment for approximately 150 teens and […]
LANDOVER – Residents with disabilities brought in the Christmas season with a Holiday Hop event hosted by the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation.
On Dec. 4, the Holiday Hop, organized by Natalie Smart, a therapeutic recreation specialist and Veronica Burke, a therapeutic recreation coordinator, provided holiday entertainment for approximately 150 teens and adults who have developmental disabilities.
“The activities and services that are provided for people with disabilities have expanded. Gone are the days when you find a child with a disability and you put them in a home, hospital or institution,” Smart said. “Now they are included into the community and they can live successful lives.”
Smart said people always remark that what the department is constantly doing for individuals with disabilities is “awesome” and is helping others become more open to this particular cause.
“We are creating awareness about people with disabilities,” Smart said. “They are people too and have their own ideas and they like to be social. They have their friends just like anybody else.”
Most of the participants are a part of social clubs that attend several activities throughout the month, but mainly look forward to the Holiday Hop at the end of the year. This year the participants were able to take selfies with holiday decorated frames at the selfie station and listen to music from the live band, DC Fusion.
“I come every year and every year I love it. This was the best holiday hop ever,” said participant Melinda Wentz. “I came and danced all night with my friends. It’s a positive event for us to be able to come to at the end of the year. There’s entertainment for us.”
Niles Gilchrist heard about the event through a previous social event at University of Maryland College Park.
“I love hanging out with my group of friends, dancing and meeting new people at the holiday Hop,” Gilchrist said.
Burke explained her joy for the event as well.
“The annual dance started back in 1980 for individuals, teens and adults with disabilities because they were not necessarily included in the mainstream,” Burke said. “You see the participants grow with you just by seeing them come in and enjoy the activities. That astringent value of giving back brings you joy that you can’t explain.”
Recently, the Prince George’s County recreation inclusion services for people with disabilities was awarded a national honor in September when the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s (M-NCPPC) Department of Parks and Recreation in Prince George’s County received a National Excellence in Inclusion Award from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The award was presented at the 2015 NRPA Annual Congress in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“It was exciting to accept the inclusion award for our long-term continued efforts in showing and expanding our disability services,” said Mary Bowie, therapeutic recreation manager. “The award and the Holiday Hop reflects the strong work that we do in continuing to serve individuals with disabilities in our community. It proves that residents in this county with disabilities are not an afterthought, they are the first thought.”
This is the second time M-NCPPC’s special programs division has received this award, first winning in 2004 when the National Institute of Recreation Inclusion presented the organization with the award. The award recognizes and honors an agency or organization that has rendered significant leadership efforts and advocacy in inclusive processes and practices. It also demonstrates and excels in inclusive programming by providing inclusive opportunities and events to people of diversity or with disabilities.
“The benefits of our program and events such as the Holiday Hop are endless. The participants get to socialize, exercise, get the heart going, take photos, and have fun,” Burke said. “Individuals with disabilities have a bigger need to exercise and they can be excited about doing it at events like this one. Some sit and chitchat and some are strictly on the dance floor. They show up a half hour early just eager to have fun. It is something you really need to see and experience.”
All of the participants sign up and register through the smart link. When they show up at the holiday event, they enter the raffle and halfway through the dance the staff announces giveaways and door prizes.
“Nobody goes home empty handed,” said Burke.