Cyndi Hinchey - Founder & Director of the S.T.A.R.S. group. Always 'on the go' - this woman never stops moving (with five kids in various directions) - ever.
Mike Votel - "Coach Mike" - Coach, athletic director, all-around mentor and adviser. He helps keep us on the straight and narrow ;)
Tracy Hagan - Events Coordinator - Longtime STARS mom - Tracy handles administrative tasks, phone calls, and helps to plan more activities as STARS continues to grow.
Aimee Ryan Boothman - A STARS mom and all around great lady who has pitched in and helped with numerous contacts, planning and coordinating. What would STARS do without her?
Holy Terrors S.T.A.R.S. is the brainchild and vision of Cyndi Hinchey, mother of five children, whose two youngest boys have autism, and one older boy has Tourette's and ADHD. It is a sports program that is part of the Holy Terrors Youth Organization from the Mayfair section of Northeast Philadelphia, PA - and it is *only* for children awith special needs. "Coach Mike" handles the sports and activities for the kids, and Cyndi plans the activities and is always working to develop more activities and outings for STARS. Tracy now helps with volunteers, sporting events, and coordinating additional activities for STARS. Different volunteers work with the kids, talk to the parents (and listens to their concerns), ask us questions about community needs, and fill in many roles when one of us can't be there.
Most of the kids in the S.T.A.R.S. program have some kind of autism, but the group is not limited to autism. "Any child with a special need or disability is welcome," says Cyndi, whose focus is on making the group informal, supportive, and comfortable for our special kids.
Many members there have IEPs, TSS support, in-home therapy services, and/or go to special ed schools. But some do not - they may have behavioral or emotional problems at an age that "slips through" the system's cracks, but they still need help and have trouble making friends. Disorders like Asperger's and Sensory Processing Disorder either aren't diagnosed until later years, or aren't yet a stand-alone diagnosis - but they still have trouble interacting with their peers and don't fit in well with traditional sports programs.
They are able to play basketball, run mini-relay races, and play whiffle ball. The "three strikes and you're out!" rule doesn't apply here. If the child has trouble with coordination or hitting the ball, a caring volunteer steps in and helps out -- doesn't take over, but supports the child so the child can do the work him/herself, while enabling the child to successfully participate in the sport to gain a sense of accomplishment and achievement. We also try to coordinate outings to activities and events that ordinarily might be overwhelming to our special STARS kids, but we plan them in a way that they can experience a 'normal' activity with some adjustments made for their special needs.
Most of the volunteers are parents of the children, but some help out for community service requirements for school, or because they believe in the STARS program and they care. Parents are able to socialize with other parents, exchange experiences and stories, learn from each other, or do some commiserating and venting about the frustrations that many families of special needs kids have on a daily basis. We also learn about good doctors, difficult schools, busing problems, therapists who work wonders, and resources that we might otherwise not learn about.
If a child is having a bad day (meltdowns) or wants to isolate or stim, it's okay. There is no pressure, no judgment, none of the condemning looks or whispering that is often directed at parents of special kids with special needs when out in public (we've all been there!).
And .... it is free!!! Yes, it is free for the families of special kids - there is no registration fee, no dues, no hidden costs. We do have fund raisers sometimes, but you are not obligated to participate. Each child in the program receives a free Holy Terrors S.T.A.R.S. t-shirt. And we are now operating year-round. We do gladly accept donations of any size and are actively seeking grants and other sources of funding for our programs. We must continue to actively seek funding in order to continue to offer our program for free.
Do you have a child with autism, Downs Syndrome, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, or other disorders or disabilities that may have prevented your child from participating in traditional sports or playgroups? Come check us out, give it a try! Even if your child with special needs doesn't feel like participating -- it's okay. After a few weeks, most start interacting even if only in "parallel" interactions. It's a wonderful, supportive atmosphere, and it's unlike any other program offered.
We are always working hard to plan more activities and projects for our STARS to enjoy and learn from.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, contact us - or find us on Facebook! Or stop by any Friday evening at New Foundations Charter School gym to see us "in action"!
© 2007 - 2014 Holy Terrors S.T.A.R.S.