Walking for children

From the time her 4-year-old daughter, Kennedy, was born, south Charlotte resident Kolleen Naman wanted nothing but the best care for her child – something she says she’s found in the Easter Seals United Cerebral Palsy Irwin & Carol Belk Children’s Center.

That’s why Naman is serving as an ambassador for the center, urging community members to take part in the upcoming Walk With Me Charlotte 2013 event. The “family-friendly” 5K walk will take place Sept. 28, a Saturday, at Freedom Park, 1900 East Blvd. Registration will take place at 9 a.m., followed by the walk at 10 a.m. and awards and lunch at 11:30 a.m.

Walk With Me Charlotte 2013 also will feature a variety of activities for children and their families, including a bounce house, face painting, a visit from Monkey Joe and a cooking demonstration from a former White House chef.

Proceeds from the event will benefit programs and services provided by Easter Seals UCP, so children like Kennedy can receive the education and care they deserve, Naman said.

“Fundraising efforts like this keep the programs and services (of Easter Seals UCP) there, and keep the quality there,” Naman said.

When she was born, Kennedy suffered respiratory distress, prompting her doctors to run tests revealing low muscle tone, a heart disorder and, ultimately, developmental delays. Kennedy’s family, living in Belmont at the time, carted Kennedy back and forth between day care and her various therapy sessions for two years until relocating to Charlotte and discovering the Irwin & Carol Belk Children’s Center.

The center provides age-appropriate educational activities and daytime care for children 6-weeks-old to pre-kindergarten. The nonprofit also provides on-hand therapists to help with speech and occupational and physical challenges, as well as teachers trained to work with children with disabilities.

Kennedy, who will have attended the center for two years come November, has “done nothing but progress and improve” since she first enrolled, her mom said.

“I think part of it is the fact that she’s getting the therapy continually … with (teachers who) reinforce what her therapists do with her on a daily basis,” Naman said. “They’re just more educated and trained and work side-by-side with therapists.”

But something that’s unique about the child development center, Naman said, is it’s open to both children with disabilities and children with typical development – something Naman believes has helped Kennedy tremendously.

“I just immediately loved the idea of putting her in that setting, not just with teachers and staff (who) were more trained in dealing with children with disabilities, but also to see other kids’ continued development,” she said.

“Being around kids with typical development has been a huge benefit in terms of her own growth and improvement.”

Teachers at the Charlotte center engage the children in group activities – something Naman said also has helped Kennedy’s development, along with her various one-on-one daily therapy sessions. Other benefits include a multisensory program – providing therapy for children with sensory issues – as well as a high level of parent involvement and what Naman calls a “really strong education program” that’s “very structured.”

“Even in the infant classroom, there’s a very structured curriculum,” she said.

But the benefits aren’t limited to children with disabilities, Naman said; the center provides a valuable learning experience for kids with typical development, too. Naman loves to watch the children interact with Kennedy and believes Easter Seals UCP is teaching lessons that will ultimately reduce bullying and make kids more sensitive to others who are different from them.

“If they can take what they’re learning in that classroom about children with special needs … it’s just going to reinforce to them how important it is to treat everyone who’s different from you as how you would want to be treated,” she said. “It’s teaching children wonderful lessons about exhibiting sensitivity.”

Find more information about Walk With Me Charlotte 2013 at www.walkwithme.org/charlotte. Learn more about the Easter Seals UCP Irwin & Carol Belk Children’s Center at www.eastersealsucpc enters.com/center/charlotte.

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