The Sturgis Exchange Club has announced the recipients of the 30th annual Doyle/Exchange Club Community Service Awards. The annual awards are made possible by the William and Helen Doyle Fund at Sturgis Area Community Foundation. The Fund, established in 1991 by a gift from William and Helen Doyle, provides support for charitable or educational programs serving the Sturgis community. Since its formation, the Fund has granted a total of $126,022 to over 80 charitable programs. This year's recipients include the Amigo Centre, 4 Paws for Ability, and the St. Joseph County Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.
Amigo Centre: Autism Camp
The Amigo Centre, Sturgis, focuses on establishing itself as a haven where all people can encounter and connect with nature, community, and God. Outdoor activity is influential in children's lives, particularly for kids with autism and other neurodivergent diagnoses. Knowing this, the Amigo Centre has developed a week of camp specifically for autistic children. Since 2018, this weeklong experience has combined autistic with non-autistic kids and counselors who can give specialized support they may need to have fun. While offering the traditional camp experience, it also provides "get-away" spaces and backpacks filled with sensory aids individualized for each child.
Mandy Yoder, Amigo Centre Program, explains that the program offers an "orientation to other children, not on the spectrum who take them under their wing each year. It's been wonderful over the years to see that interaction. They take their hand and bring them along with them."
Each year the Amigo Centre welcomes repeat campers that look forward to building strong and effective relationships with other campers and volunteers. Yoder and Jessica Weseman, Executive Director at the Amigo Centre, and two Autism Spectrum Disorder teacher consultants from the ISD facilitate orientation to train volunteers to interact with the children one-on-one.
"I know it's life-changing for our staff," Yoder emphasizes, "And I know it's also life-changing for the kids."
The Amigo Centre is excited to be able to develop this program and provide a space where all children can be welcomed, known, and loved. Check out their website and Facebook page to learn more about Amigo Center.
4 Paws for Ability: Help a Child in Sturgis with Disabilities
Paws for ability is a non-profit organization that helps children and veterans connect with service dogs specifically trained to assist them. Since 1998, the organization has placed over 1,500 dogs and has grown to include autism, seizure, mobility, and hearing assistance, among others. The organization raises and trains all dogs in-house. Careful breed selection and specialized training ensure each dog meets the needs of its child. The approximate cost to grow, care for, and train one service dog ranges from $40K to $60K.
Local youth, Harmony Griffith, will be the recipient of a special companion that will help her navigate her disabilities with ADHD, Childhood Apraxia of Speech, and cognitive delays. Harmony's father shared that,
"It's going to be a way to help her create stability and independence in herself to help her control her emotions."
As she approaches high school, her relationship with her service dog will help her successfully establish a connection with others, a sense of support, and flexibility with routines and schedules. Harmony will also play an essential role in the dog's training. To learn more about Harmony and donate to her journey, check out her Make A Dream Come True page on 4 Paws for Ability's website.
4 Paws for Ability hopes to ensure that children and families everywhere have the option of obtaining a service dog to enhance their quality of life. 4 Paws for Ability enriches the lives of people with disabilities by placing life-changing service dogs with those in need.
St. Joseph County Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect: "Welcome Home" Baby Bags
St. Joseph County Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect will receive funding to provide "Welcome Home" Baby bags to new parents throughout our county. In cooperation with the Great Start Collaborative, these bags will give new parents a blanket sleeper and a children's book about Safe Sleep that promotes the connection between the baby and caregiver while enforcing the safety message. "Welcome Home" Baby Bags are distributed from Three Rivers Hospital and Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo. Every mother is sent home with the resources they will need to start a healthy relationship with their child.
"The Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Council has given away over 700 bags to new parents over the past four years. Parents report that they appreciate the blanket sleeper the most, which supports a safe sleeping environment for the baby. Without the Welcome Baby Bag, parents may use a blanket to keep the baby covered, creating a suffocation hazard in an infant's bed. We are grateful to be able to provide this tool to parents to promote safe sleep." – Stephanie Zann.
Check out their Facebook page to learn more about what St. Joseph County Council for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect is doing for new families.