Brian Armstrong and Kate O’Boyle are founders of Sensations Charitable, a small, but feisty foundation that works to benefit families faced with disabilities and other health conditions.
Sensations isn’t your average care program. Working with its sister organization, Synergy Center, Sensations provides behavioral, social, and emotional therapeutic care for kids of all ages.
Its latest effort, a summer program called Sensational Synergy, promotes social skills for children facing developmental delays associated with attention deficit disorder, autism, or other learning and emotional disabilities. The program pairs students with seniors housed at the Fairview Odd Fellows Home of Connecticut.
“We work a lot with high incident disabilities,” said Armstrong. “[Disabilities] that, unless someone speaks to you or gets frustrated, you don’t know there’s a problem.”
“A child in school [who] cannot get along with friends, or [who] struggles with the social piece of school [is] not available to learn,” he continued. “It makes the academic progress a challenge. Those are the kids that in schools will typically slip through the cracks. We’re hoping to catch them and give them that support."
Sensational Synergy sessions run from July 11 through August 18, Monday through Wednesday from 1-5 p.m. Participants engage in activities similar to those in typical summer camp including music, art, and physical education. These activities, however, are supervised by certified professionals and guided by input provided by parents during registration.
“I pride myself on not having returnees;” said Armstrong, “which means that [kids] are doing typical summer programs, typical summer activities, and the parents are confident that their child can now go to a beach and play with another kid because they’ll know how to ask, ‘Can we play together?’”
“I like having graduates,” he said.
An important, unconventional element to Sensational Synergy is intergenerational interaction.
“People believe it’s important, but that there’s not a lot to do besides [performing] a play with the seniors,” said Armstrong. “I wanted interaction.”
Armstrong works with the staff at Fairview Odd Fellows to construct therapeutic plans that meet the challenges posed by all those participating in Sensational Synergy. Alzheimer residents, for example, are invited to partake in art therapy sessions with the students.
“Anytime there’s something with kids, I try to get involved and get to know them and help them anyway I can,” said Odd Fellows resident Elizabeth Michon. “You don’t want to push too quickly because then you scare them. [If] you take things slow and easy, you make friends for life.”
“We believe that at some point Synergy Center and Sensations Charitable will be able to support both ends of the age spectrum,” said Armstrong. “We have a lot of work to do [in knowing] when you push to encourage change and when you let them be who they are, when they are.”
In the past, Synergy Center programs have worked with local organizations to provide skateboarding and surfing lessons to its students, and have provided pre-vocational workshops focused on marketing, sales, and health and fitness.
Going forward, Armstrong aims to expand Sensational Synergy into a year-long, after-school program that incorporates Synergy Center partnerships.
“Our overall goal of the program is to increase social opportunities and social competencies,” said Armstrong. “We believe that if a child can respond appropriately to directions, interact with their peers, engage in activities, and show empathy toward others, they should be prepared to go into a typical program without the additional supports. The goal is to get kids playing together and doing things that are therapeutic, but also fun.”