By Kate Quach
Woven along the outer gates of the Botanical Garden, colorfully fringed tents flapped in the brisk Golden Gate Park breeze. Calvin, 11 years old, shrugged off the lightly drizzling Saturday afternoon weather, bounded past his dad, David Tracy, toward the open double doors of the County Fair Building. Inside, a party of pop music, dancing and creative play zones ranging from archery to candle-making launched Calvin into the event.
“We showed up and we didn’t know they were going to have all of these activities for the kids to try out,” Tracy said.
Over the course of the day, more than 2,400 people explored the 100 summer camps and programs exhibiting at the San Francisco Summer Resource Fair on Feb. 11. At its first reappearance since 2020, the Fair was designed to extend summer enrichment opportunities to interested families, especially those with children with disabilities. Tracy expressed that while building an educational summertime agenda for Calvin, who is autistic, could be difficult, the Resource Fair gave them both the chance to engage in the City’s offerings.
“Finding things that are resources for kids like Calvin is going to be a challenge,” Tracy said. “But this is such an amazing opportunity to be out there and have fun.”
Tracy, an active parent in the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s Therapeutic Recreation Inclusion Services team’s summer camps, re-enrolls Calvin in their inclusive Everybody Travels city sight-seeing program every year as Calvin holds special interests in public transportation and travel.
Lucas Tobin, supervisor of Therapeutic Recreation Inclusion Services, advocates for the adventurous nature of children with disabilities.
“We know that kids do better academically if they’re doing camps and other engaging things during the summertime,” explained Tobin. “Our goal is helping kids with disabilities have access to enriching activities during the summer so that they’re able to keep learning and keep having social interaction through healthy physical activities.”
Mimi Schiffman and her 4-year-old daughter Sierra found themselves stumbling into the engaging activity booths and opportunities; it was a lucky surprise discovery after receiving their COVID-19 booster shot next door. Schiffman, enjoying the resources available throughout the fair, appreciated the upbeat encouragement of summertime possibilities for youth across San Francisco.
“The energy of the people who are here to facilitate this is incredible, and the diversity of city entertainment options and education options for children is so cool,” she said. As Schiffman admired Sierra dancing along with the choreography of the Zumba team and interacting with the pom-pom STEM projects, she said that local events, such as the Resource Fair, help make living in expensive districts of San Francisco worthwhile.
“The City can feel very hard to raise a family here,” Shiffman said. “It’s an expensive place to live and it’s all divided up. But then you come (to the Summer Resource Fair) and you realize how many programs there are and how many people are stoked to get kids involved. It’s an indication of what’s out there and reminds me to get involved and see what the city has.”
Jessica Huey, program specialist of the Therapeutic Recreation Inclusion Services team, recognized the request for “more information for people with disabilities regardless of their age” within her department. Huey also hopes to increase awareness for the needs of children with disabilities through her role in the therapeutic recreation branch and with the citywide collaborators accompanying booths standing alongside her.
Setting up sensory-active equipment, such as a crash pad, balance beam and a hug-simulating steam roller in the “movement chill zone” at the County Fair Building, Huey encouraged children and adults alike to discover the benefits of the engagement tools’ sensory input.
“It’s really good for the general public to see that the specialized equipment is pretty universal, and anyone can use it and learn a little bit about our sensory needs,” Huey said.
The recreational leader also applauded the collaborative initiative groups of the Therapeutic Recreation Inclusion Services team, including SF Department of Children, Youth and their Families (DCYF), Golden Gate Regional Center and the Special Education Department of the San Francisco Unified School District (SPED).
“We’re really trying to work together as partners and fill the need for programs for people with disabilities,” Huey said. “It’s an ongoing work in progress. We’re trying to get other programs to be more accessible and inclusive and provide more support.”
Early Childhood Special Education Supervisor Moira Zacharakis sits beside Julia Martin, ombudsperson for special education, communicating to fair-goers and families about education options that occur over the summer and extend into the fall.
“This is a fabulous event for all of our families within the City to understand what’s available to them over the summer and throughout the school year,” Zacharakis said. “We are trying to promote clarity for our students who have individualized education plans so that they know what their options are over the summer.”
As the SPED representatives echoed Tobin’s understanding of positive social interactions through summer programs, Martin displayed hopes of continuing to work with DCYF and the therapeutic recreation team to “make sure that all the camps are perfectly set up to accommodate students with disabilities and provide the support they need.”
With anticipation to expand opportunities for children and families with disabilities, Tobin and Huey addressed the community and staff effort to broaden their resources and increase their accessibility.
“We’re really working on recruiting staff who are trained and interested in working with people with disabilities so we can offer more outside of Rec. and Park and outside of the small nonprofit where we are,” said Huey. “It takes a village and a community just to get us all together and be supportive to one another.”
Learn more about the resource fair at dcyf.org/summer-resource-fairs.
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