True Champions at Work and Play

By Patricia Napolitano

I had the pleasure of attending the 4th Annual Summer Olympics for the International Academy of Hope (iHOPE) on Thursday, August 9, 2018, held at the Dream Charter School in New York City. This year’s theme was Fairytale Kingdom and the staff and children were dressed to impress!

Walking into the school’s auditorium, guests were greeted with festive decorations and music to set the mood; but seeing the smiles from the children would set anyone’s mood in the right direction.  The children entered the "arena" in true Greek/Olympic fashion and they were excited to hear the cheers from family and friends, as well as the loving and caring staff.

The West Point band started the festivities by playing our National Anthem. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by one of the students on her communication device, part of the Assistive Technology Program at iHOPE.

Then, the games began! Soccer ball kicking, ping pong ball shooting, water gun target practice, and the computer bumper car challenge were some of the fun festivities for all to enjoy.

Seeing the children use some of their switch-accessible games in play was a huge thrill for us at Phillips Charitable Foundation, as we were also there to present a huge display check for part of the Assistive Technology Program grant being awarded to iHOPE. Accepting the check was Gretchen Hanser, Director of Assistive Technology, and Karen Tumulty, the newly hired Principal at iHope.

I was able to see how innovation meets with fun with several of the games purchased with the grant that have been adapted by companies for the use in educational play for those with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  These games and communication devices, along with an adapted musical instrument kit, iMac computers, iPad Pros, SMART Boards and various switches for each, have let the staff communicate and reach each child in their own special way.

I was able to take a practice run on the SCATIR computer to see how eye-gaze therapy helps unlock the communication for a child with a Traumatic Brain Injury; it certainly was fascinating to see how this would open up a whole world to anyone that would like to have their "voice" heard.  Seeing a child finally be able to communicate how he was feeling was wonderful.

The presentation of the Phillips Charitable Foundation’s display check was an honor for me, as I represent an organization that believes that solving a problem enables organizations to focus on their mission instead of the problem.  Our selection of iHope for our Director Initiated Grant for their Assistive Technology Program was exactly what our mission embodies. I was thrilled to hear from Gretchen Hanser that the grant has “already proven to be a transformative grant, giving us the tools we need to tailor a program for each student and support the changing needs of each child.” Their success with switch-adapted technology is enabling them to tailor a communication program for each child’s needs. We look forward to their success with each child and their future growth.

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