Since 1972, physically and mentally disabled kids have utilized the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Pittsfield in the exact same way as any other member.
“It was unique for the times,” said Rick Backer, director of the Recreation Therapy Program at the club. “Jim Mooney was the superintendent and he believed strongly that special needs kids should be treated like every other member of the club.”
More than 30 years ago, the program began by providing special needs members with activities a few afternoons a week and on Saturday morning. Since then, it has grown to a much larger program that includes summers spent at Camp Russell. In addition, transitional and vocational services help kids learn social skills and support school and part-time work endeavors. To help accommodate its philosophy of inclusion, both the club facility and Camp Russell are completely handicapped accessible.
“It’s now part of the culture of the Boy’s and Girl’s Club,” Rick said of the special needs program. “Each member develops skills as successfully as they individually can.” The activities include cooking, games, swimming and sports. From time to time, special needs kids from other school districts also join the Pittsfield members to cook lunch together, socialize and develop a network.
Rick noted that generous grants have helped fund the program, which includes door-to-door pickups from school to the club and a two-to-one staff/member ratio. “No one is left out because of cost,” he said. When the program switches to Camp Russell in the summer, the cabins and bathrooms are wheelchair accessible, and kids enjoy the same activities as all the campers.
“This program started under Jim Mooney and has continued with Peter Bell, the current superintendent,” Rick said. “The club does this because it’s the right thing to do. It was done because the mission of the club is to provide a safe and happy place for all youngsters, where they are given the help and guidance they need to become members of our community.”