A social group established in Vernon last year for girls afflicted with any type of neuro/development differences has received widespread participation support.
The Okanagan chapter of GIRLS CLUB was launched last year and has some 60 girls registered, ranging in age from eight months up to teenagers.
Parents are bringing their daughters to Vernon for the monthly club sessions at space donated by the North Okanagan Neurological Association from West Kelowna, Vernon, Salmon Arm, Lumby, Revelstoke and Kamloops.
GIRLS CLUB chapter was started last August by Vernon mother Bree Cawley with the intention of creating an opportunity for her two-year-old daughter and others who experience the world in the same way.
The first GIRLS CLUB was started in the Lower Mainland by a mom with a daughter diagnosed with autism.
Cawley said the two met while their children were receiving care at B.C. Children’s Hospital last year and shared a mutual interest in starting a new resource for girls with disabilities and their parents.
The idea has since caught on as a new chapter is about to start up in Prince George.
It has the organizational support of the B.C. Autism Network, which has absorbed the GIRLS CLUB under their insurance coverage and non-profit group registered charity number to reduce much of the initial organizing red tape, and provided free space for the clubs to meet, which in Vernon is at the North Okanagan Neurological Association facility.
It is not a drop-in centre, but completely volunteer and reliant on parental support. No fees are charged for regularly scheduled meetups.
Activities at the monthly sessions include theme parties, arts and crafts, cookie decorating, listening to music and just hanging out and having fun. Field trips are scheduled as well.
Cawley hopes the club can expand to two meetings a month this fall, which will probably push the volunteer resources to a limit, particularly for Cawley who has a full-time job at Okanagan College.
“The foundation of the group is based on the belief that all children wish to connect and form meaningful relationships with others. Providing ongoing opportunities for kids and teens who might otherwise find it more challenging to make friends is one way to help foster these relationships,” she said.
“My daughter really enjoys it and gets excited whenever we drive past the NONA facility or sees me getting stuff together for a club meeting.”
Cawley said girls tend to be the lower percentage of having development disabilities, particularly with autism where three in four with the affliction are males.
“Girls tend to be in the minority so there is a lack of social opportunity with these types of diagnosis,” said Cawley.
“There is a lot of therapy offered—speech therapy, occupational therapy, language therapy, any kind of therapy you can think of. But there is limited opportunity for these kids to just meet other kids. They can’t really participate in mainstream activities in most cases.”
Cawley said it has been interesting to see older teens related to the very young club members, forming a bond that extends beyond shared or similar neuro-development issues. “It’s almost like a big sister little sister thing going on.”
She said her older daughter, 5, also participated in the program, raising her awareness and empathy for other kids besides her sister that may suffer from movement or speech issues.
A one-year carnival themed GIRLS CLUB anniversary party is planned for Sunday, Aug. 19, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at NONA, 2802 34th St. in Vernon. The event is free but pre-registration is requested by contacting okanagan@inGIRLSCLUB.com.
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