From low-cost after-school and summer camp options for working families to an osteoporosis awareness and fitness campaign for at-risk seniors, the Houston Street Center has been listening and responding to the needs of our neighbors since we opened in 2006. Most recently that meant launching the EXCEL program for children, teens and young adults with special needs.
The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a pivotal moment for youth with disabilities. They are more than twice as likely as their peers to drop out of school, face much higher unemployment rates and are three times more likely to live in poverty as adults than their peers without disabilities. The need for creative, supportive programs to assist their journey to adulthood is essential. Unfortunately many of the programs that do exist are inaccessible to families with low or moderate incomes, or lack the cultural awareness and understanding necessary to adequately serve our community. That's where the location, low costs, and experience of the HSC come in.
EXCEL launched with just one swimming class, and demand grew from there. Pasta-Making, Art, Toy-Making, Baking, Communication Skills, Computers, and more were added to the list of 8-week sessions that take place year-round. All courses are taught by trained youth development or artistic specialists who are armed with high expectations for our participants. Today over 65 young adults are served by the program, with plans to expand class offerings.
Read more about two star participants, Anthony and Erik, and get a special overview of one of our most successful courses - Drama!
Anthony Swims Through EXCEL
Anthony began swimming at the Houston Street Center two years ago. He was also looking to earn college credit through an internship, so he started assisting the Houston Street Center's Director with data management. It was clear, however, that he had a passion for marketing and design, so staff began getting his assistance with creating flyers for several of the Center's youth programs. Despite his busy schedule, Anthony still found the time to not only keep up, but also take the lead with his swimming - he recently won first place in the Special Olympics Swim Meet for the 50 Meter Freestyle race!
Erik Finds Independence through Fitness
When Erik first came to EXCEL classes, he always came with his mother. Together they signed up for our Community Cardio program, making health and fitness a priority in their family. After so many sessions in the gym, Erik decided to become a full gym member – giving him access to workout whenever he wanted. And the best part about Erik's frequent visits? He is now comfortable enough with the space and staff to come to the Houston Street Center solo!
Lights, Camera, Action!
For young adults with special needs, the ability to connect with peers and the entire community while engaging in the arts is a great opportunity to build confidence and friendship. And that was the thought behind one EXCEL participant's suggestion to add a drama course to the program curriculum. Now the class is in such high demand that enrollment has been capped and the class has been extended to two hours long.
With an experienced drama instructor's advice, courses have been timed immediately after yoga, so everyone is at ease. And participants are thriving! After months of rehearsals, our EXCEL Drama students performed for a live audience for the first time as part of University Settlement's Community Ensemble Project. Check out the video below to see performance from their original work, "Courage, Fire, Love."