Our latest Go West Mom You Should Know is Jackie Olson of North Aurora. Olson, 42, is an occupational therapist with three sons. She also has a 6-year-old daughter with autism who is the inspiration for “Haley’s Playground Inc.” It’s an organization that provides sensory and motor stimulation classes for children and young adults with disabilities and seeks to improve their quality of life through play, exercise and health education while interacting with friends, families and peers.
There will be an open house at Haley’s Playground this Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the North Aurora Activity Center, located at 1 North Lincolnway. If you’d like to attend, or have questions beyond what you can gather below, please email Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read on to find out why we think Olson is a Mom You Should Know.
Q. Can you tell me more about Haley’s Playground – exactly who the organization is aimed at and how it operates?
A. Haley’s Playground Inc. is a non-for-profit 501c3 charitable organization established in April 2011. Our mission is to provide a safe healthy environment for individuals with physical, cognitive, and social disabilities; to improve their quality of life and meet their significant needs through play, exercise, sensory activities, training, mentoring and education for success while interacting and providing education to their families, friends, peers, and members in our community. We service ages 2-30 years. It is an organization of individuals who volunteer their time and talents to give back in our community. Starting in 2012, we offer respite and tutoring services.
Q. What inspired you to open Haley’s Playground?
A. Kids with disabilities need a place to go where they are accepted and their families are accepted. A place they can learn and grow to play with others. A place where they can have fun and be with peers who accept them. A place to call their own. A place where they can learn social skills, play skills, and practice making good choices.
Q. Can you tell me about your daughter Haley?
A. My daughter is 6 years old. She has autism and seizures. People often ask why she claps her hands so much. Kids wonder why she cannot talk to them or answer their questions. We need to teach kids at much younger ages to be accepting and helpful. This would decrease the bullying that happens so often. Our kids need to have role models and mentoring from kids who want to be with them. The information that our volunteers are taking with them is more valuable than ever.
Q. What do you find most fulfilling about parenting a child with special needs?
A. My children and I have such a great bond. She knows that I love her for who she is and that no matter what I will always be there. She has taught me to be more patient and understanding. Most parents get excited when their child reaches a certain milestone. We get ecstatic. We are grateful for each and every step she and her friends take because they do it together.
Q. What do you find most challenging?
A. I find that it is most difficult to explain to people that just because she does not look like she may have a disability that she does and that she is doing the best she can and to please be patient. She has a button that is on her backpack that says, “I am not misbehaving. I have autism please be understanding.” Often, I think that most parents would like the world to know this.
Q. How would you describe your parenting style?
A. I am very straightforward. I have learned that you have to just be to the point. There is no maybe or maybe not answers. She needs to be with other kids and she needs to have friends and she needs to guided every step of the way and we all learn from our mistakes. One time I received a note from her teacher that said, “Today, Haley was very silly and laughing at school.” I thought to myself, “It sure beats a meltdown anyday.”
Q. What is your vision for the future of Haley’s Playground? How can Go West readers help achieve that vision?
A. Our vision is to meet the need as the premier regional non-for-profit organization specializing in meeting the sensory, physical, and social needs of individuals with disabilities and providing modeling and mentoring of skills through an educational outreach program with families, friends and volunteers in the community.
Excellence will be provided in recreational play, health, exercise, and activity including vocational needs and emergency needs to individuals in our community based on each individual’s specific needs and to integrate all individuals as partners in our society.
There is a way for readers to help us achieve our vision. Spreading the word for the need of a larger facility and what we can offer to families that have kids with and without disabilities. We are looking to raise $150,000 to open three apartments that would be available for emergency need of families with kids that have disabilities. We are always looking for volunteers.