A unique non profit in Paris is making a difference with youth with higher needs after one year in operation.
Jason’s Wheelhouse is a recreation centre that assists special needs youth by giving them a safe and welcoming environment to learn and play in.
The centre is named after Executive Director Janice Knills’ son, Jason, 16, who has autism and the inability to speak. With that, he also has a long list of conditions and diagnoses, making it hard to put him in activities.
“We realized very quickly there wasn’t anything that fit his needs,” she said.
Regular activities like karate or music lessons are too dangerous for Jason without extra care. People with autism don’t usually have a sense of danger making most activities difficult to do safely.
The idea to start the centre came after a conversation with Jason’s doctor. They suggested putting a roof over their trampoline making it a more safe and accessible area. The idea kept growing as Knills wanted to help other youth in the community.
“If we can make this space safe enough for Jason then anybody can play here.”Janice Knills, Jason’s Wheelhouse
Located at 60 Curtis Avenue North in Paris, the centre has a sensory room, art room and a community room that will soon be a stem room.
“We will have science, technology, engineering and math as well as robotics experiments,” said Knills.
The activities in the stem room will be generously donated by the STEM Camp of Ontario.
The sensory room offers a comfortable space for youth which will soon hold more activities designed to regulate sensory needs.
Programs offered include modified dance, yoga and movement classes. Life skills classes are also offered where youth can learn kitchen basics such as cooking and washing hands before eating.
“Some of our guests have a hard time in the kitchen … making popcorn is a pretty great cause and effect … a lot of independence with that activity.”Janice Knills, Jason’s Wheelhouse
The backyard will hopefully have a pool by next spring but for now has a trampoline, triple hoop and a flower bed for gardening.
“We’ve had a lot of community support … there’s something in every room from a business in Paris”Janice Knills, Jason’s Wheelhouse
For now, most guests come for after school and weekend programs but two come throughout the week. They can incorporate more school activities as they grow.
Knill says she is thrilled that Jason’s Wheelhouse has also been recognized by all three levels of government with accessibility awards and that’s something she thought would take years, not months.
Fall programs are up for registration now.