Kaylee Manzitto noticed a lack of activities for children with special needs in her community, versus the plethora of activities available in the summertime for other children. The Oaks Christian High School Senior decided to create a Dance and Music Workshop within a community summer camp with the intention to teach the children how they could learn, create, and inspire through instruments and movement.
“Every summer, thousands of children go to summer camps either for recreation or because their parents are working and cannot watch them,” Kaylee said. “This workshop within a camp was designed for special needs children to have that same opportunity to participate in a summer activity that they would not normally be able to take part in.”
Kaylee coordinated with Moorpark’s Parks and Recreation Department to create her three-day workshop. The first day focused on teaching the campers a choreographed dance. Day two was Music and Rhythm Day, where students could play with various instruments. The third day, Pop Star Day, was to celebrate the accomplishments the campers learned throughout the workshop.
“We played games, danced to music, and dressed up in fancy scarves and sunglasses as campers walked along a red carpet,” Kaylee said. “At the end of these three days, campers left the workshop with knowledge of different instruments and how to use them, dance moves, and increased confidence in their ability to communicate and express themselves through music. This project helped increase the inclusiveness of special needs activities in communities, and gave a fun workshop for campers to participate in.”
The inspiration for her Gold Award project stemmed from the global issue of the inadequacy of special needs activities. “I think this issue is a matter of equality in communities throughout the U.S.,” she said. Because equal opportunities are not prevalent, many individuals are not aware of the fact that special needs children are not receiving the same type or quantity of recreational activities as other children in their communities.
Kaylee’s workshop gave special needs children the chance to interact with each other and improve on their sensory skills, social skills, creativity, and hand-eye coordination throughout the different dance and music activities. “This project also benefited the parents because it allowed them to drop their kids off to have fun so they could do errands or other activities,” she said. “People around my community, such as the volunteers, also benefited because they became aware of the lack of special needs activities and were able to learn how to communicate and lead the children effectively.”
Her project will be sustained through a digital handbook she created, which details the three days of the workshop activities along with materials needed, safety information, do’s and don’ts, tips, and troubleshooting. The Moorpark’s Parks and Recreation Department has agreed to use Kaylee’s handbook as an example for others who desire to create a Special Needs activity regarding dance and/or music. It is also being shared with a community group planning a “Day in the Park” event for special needs children in Moorpark.
In completing her project, Kaylee said that she took away important lessons on how to be adaptable, attentive, and a strong leader. “I learned that even if things do not go as planned, the most important thing is to adapt and try something different that is effective,” she said. “A phrase I have heard throughout my life is that ‘there is no harm in trying’. This phrase embodied some of the leadership skills I obtained throughout the camp because I was always trying new ways to approach activities so that the campers were happy. I learned that a successful leader knows who they are working with, is always happy and prepared to adapt, and gives recognition.”
“Because of this project, I will grow in the future as a leader because I was able to learn how to take control of unexpected situations,” she said. “I also now have more confidence in my abilities to make decisions that are beneficial to myself and the people I am leading. I have increased my organizational skills and now know that planning is key. I also think my new leadership skills will help me grow in the future as I prepare for my career path. Since I want to become a nurse, I know that I am going to be helping many people with all sorts of disabilities, whether that be physical or mental. Understanding my target audience and preparing to treat and lead them will help me provide others with the best care that I can give to them.”