The world has spent most of this year learning to live in a new normal. Mollie Dale, Program Manager at Hoyleton’s Koelling Cottage, is experiencing exactly that. Every day Mollie works with children on the autism spectrum and must find ways to deliver educational changes that do not hinder their growth and ability to develop life skills.
Koelling cottage is home to 10 boys between the ages of 13 and 21, all who have moderate developmental delays. “These kids thrive on schedules, so any kind of change in their schedule can be difficult,” she says. “When COVID hit, we really had to make the best of it and be as consistent as we could be as we found a new normal routine for them.”
Schools in for the summer
Koelling is one of five cottages located on the main Hoyleton Campus. Like the other cottages, it is set up to provide the children with life skills training, access to ongoing education and the opportunity to develop social skills with their peers.
A typical day for the children included getting up, attending to personal hygiene, cleaning up their rooms, heading off to school and interacting during social time back on campus. The schooling part of the day now takes place entirely at the cottage. “The schools will send packets to us, and we’ll help instruct the classroom assignments each day,” explains Mollie. “Then they end the afternoon with free time to do activities either inside or outside.”
One of the biggest challenges has been the limited socializing among the boys. Typically the children across the five cottages could interact with each other during campus-wide games and activities. “They have lost some of those close connections,” says Mollie. “But we also know that we need to take this seriously and keep taking precautions for the health of the residents and staff.”
New ways to stay engaged and active
In the past, the staff at Koelling would also take the kids out to go shopping or see a movie. Each received a small allowance and enjoyed getting away from campus. Now they have to stay safe and find ways to entertain themselves in or around the cottage grounds. Thus far, keeping the boys close to home has kept everyone safe with no COVID cases being reported.
“Our staff has been outstanding with coming up with creative activities to keep the boys engaged,” says Mollie. “Whether it’s making tie-dye shirts or spin art, we do our best to keep things fun and active around here.”
Like most young boys, the staff works to burn off as much of their energy as they can. “One night we decided to turn on some YouTube videos of different dances to see if we could do them,” says Mollie. “The boys had so much fun that it became a weekly dance party!”
As the staff comes up with new ideas for activities, sometimes there is a delay before they can do them. “WIth the need to maintain the staff to youth ratio onsite, we can’t just run out to the store at a moment’s notice notice,” explains Mollie. :But again, the staff is great and will volunteer to get things to bring in the next day for us.”
A surprise donation to lift up spirits
Mollie was surprised one day when an anonymous donor reached out and wanted to lift up the spirits of the boys. They wanted to provide a picnic and some fun for everyone, so Mollie was told to get on Amazon and order what she needed.
“Since we can’t go to a waterpark or pool, I asked if I could get a giant tarp,” she says. “We created our own slip and slide, which was the big hit of the summer.” Along with the supplies came a gift card for a fried chicken dinner and matching shirts for the boys and staff. “We are really big into matching shirts,” says Mollie. “They seem to bring everyone closer together.”
Moving forward in the new normal
As COVID precautions continue, Mollie and team continue to keep things in perspective. “We really have learned not to take everything so seriously,” she says. The team takes things one day at a time and are thankful for a group of kids that are resilient and understanding. “If you stopped by and didn’t know any differently, you wouldn’t think anything was going on,” says Mollie. “That’s a testament to the kids and this great staff.”
How you can help
When asked how people can help, Mollie was quick to respond. They are always looking for activities to keep everyone entertained and busy, whether it’s games, DVDs, crayons, party favors or any other types of indoor activities, especially as winter approaches.
“We truly appreciate our partners and donors for all they have done to help these children, especially this year,” Mollie says. “It’s that type of support that allows us to see the boys thrive and continue to grow with their life skills here at the cottage. Hoyleton supporters are giving them futures they deserve.”
To learn more about Residential Care and how you can help, please visit: https://hoyleton.org/programs/therapeutic-residential-care/