The Thurston County Public Health and Social Services (TCPHSS) Specialized Recreation Program is making a come-back, hosting events for all throughout Thurston County. While the program was created specifically for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, anyone is welcome. “We are coming back,” says Tracey Villanueva who is the specialized recreation supervisor for the program.. “There’s a lot of energy in the program and we want to spread the word.” The Specialized Recreation program is meant to foster personal growth, community integration and friendship while encouraging people to be social and active.

two people sitting in chairs laughing
Adults with disabilities participate in a fun variety of recreational programs through Thurston County Public Health and Social Services. Events are tailored to meet the needs of a wide range of people. Photo courtesy: Thurston County

Specialized Recreation Program in Thurston County Engages Everyone in Our Community

The Thurston County’s Specialized Recreation Programs are designed specifically for individuals with  intellectual and developmental disabilities. Events are open to people of all abilities who are 16 years or older. Services dimmed during COVID-19, but now new activities are starting up again, and more people are being included every day. “It’s a program unique in our area,” adds Tracey.

It’s all about making friends and having fun. One parent is thrilled to be able to schedule events. “My kids would just be at home,” she explains.

“We go bowling weekly, play bingo once a month and have dances,” says Tracey. A recent bingo event  was Hawaiian themed and included prizes. She has a good time gathering prizes and planning new events.

In a partnership with Legends Arcade in downtown Olympia, the space opens an hour earlier especially for this group. “We want to support local businesses,” Tracey says, and continues to seek ways to partner with other local owners. Another partner, Underhill Plants, also in downtown Olympia has supplied greens for  arts and crafts sessions. Activities are typically in the afternoons or earlier in the evening. Many participants use public transportation including Dial-A-Lift, so events are usually over by 8 p.m.

The Valentine’s Dance is a huge annual event where people dress up for a festive time. It is complete with table clothes, fancy decorations, and chocolate. Pellegrino’s Italian Kitchen has been a valued partner in providing this event’s food. “People really look forward to this annual event,” notes Tracey.

The Olympia Family Theater works with the program to offer an improv and a dancing class. An acting class will be back this fall. These were very popular. “We try to be inclusive, regardless of  abilities ,” notes Mark Moffett, program manager for Social Services.

two people hugging each other with a lightsaber and Grogu
Caregivers can stay or not when their dear one participates in the specialized recreation programs through Thurston County. Adults with disabilities are encouraged to participate. Photo courtesy: Thurston County

Thurston County Summer Camp for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

The Thurston County Public Health and Social Services’ Specialized Recreation program will be offering day camp during the summer with twice monthly meetings at various parks and other outdoor spaces. The visit to the Capitol Campus gardens will include an informative presentation from one of the gardeners. Squaxin Park will be another location with a person from the City of Olympia to talk about insects and their homes. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will have a session called “Cougars and Bears, Oh My!” In September, the Stream Team will come speak about salmon and people will get to see them, too. “We want to encourage people to get outside,” says Tracey.

Attending Thurston County Specialized Recreational Activities

People who attend any of these events may come independently or with a care provider, who is also welcome to participate, check out the Thurston County Specialized Recreation website to see how to you can get involved. There is a fee for attendees, excluding care providers. Scholarships are available and can be applied for online. Some people may qualify for the respite funds through the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA).

Care providers may choose to drop off their participant, attend to other business and come back for pick-up.

people sitting at long tables playing bingo
Themed Bingo Nights are popular in the specialized recreation program through Thurston County. They are designed for adults with disabilities. Photo courtesy: Thurston County

Jobs within the Specialized Recreation Program!

The number of event offerings are limited by staff availability. The demand is increasing as more people want to get involved in this program. “We are hiring,” says Mark. The County is looking for event support with Recreation Leads and assistants. These would be part-time positions to help at these recreation activities. People would be paid on an hourly basis. Once an applicant has been accepted into the County system, the person would look at upcoming events and sign up. It’s a way to support this program, have a good time, and receive remuneration.

 “I am surprised at how much fun I have,” recalls Tracey. She attended a karaoke night after a tiring day at work. “The participants were so excited. I’m singing along. I felt so pumped and excited.” After all, the purpose of these activities is to create connections and enjoy the ride.

The County also assists with job training and placement. “Our bigger program is employment,” adds Mark. The recreation program is a great way to initiate connections with others.

The spectrum for adults with disabilities is extensive. “We try to meet people where they are,” shares Tracey. “We make it as comfortable as possible for people to participate.”

Visit the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services’ Specialized Recreation Program website for more information and a calendar of events.


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