WKU student group helps Kelly Autism Program

Cameron Koch

The Kelly Autism Program recently received a special gift thanks to a group of students — a wide array of everyday equipment to help children diagnosed with autism learn about and better control their balance and senses.

As a part of a small group communication class, groups that consisted of five students each received $100 from the $100 Solution Program through the ALIVE Center.

With the money, each group was tasked with making a sustainable change for a specific group of people.

After a brainstorming session, Cecilia senior Whitney Churchman and her group decided to work with the Kelly Autism Center.

“They were really, really excited about us working with them,” said Churchman, who is majoring in agriculture and communication studies. “We kind of assessed a need.”

The center told the group they were in need of equipment for a program known as “Minds in Motion,” which is focused on helping kids with autism learn about and better control their senses. The program was created in 2006 by Candace Meyer, an elementary educator.

Individuals diagnosed with autism often have trouble communicating or express repetitive or compulsive behavior.

“Minds in Motion” consists of an obstacle course-like maze in which children with autism are presented with various sensory exercises and activities, such as walking on a balance beam or following objects with their eyes.

The course has numerous benefits for participants, said KAP Director Marty Boman.

“Candace’s research in Louisville shows it improves their literacy, their reading, their academic performance as well as social participation… this really makes a difference in our student’s lives,” Boman said.

While the group started with only $100 to spend, they have since gone far beyond.

“My group is kind of what you would call a progressive group,” Churchman said. The group hosted a fundraiser at CiCi’s Pizza that raised $21, in addition to receiving $50 dollars from Churchman’s sorority, Omega Phi Alpha. The Kelly family, after which the program is named, even met with the group and made a donation of $200, bringing the group total to $371.

The group found it easy to help as many of the items needed for the course are easily obtained.

“This therapy equipment is stuff you can find at everyday places…that’s the beauty of this $100 solution,” Churchman said.

Items purchased included wood to make a balance beam and a mini- trampoline. The students used about $170 to buy equipment and donated the remaining $200 to the KAP to purchase more specialized equipment online.

The group was invited to volunteer with the program after group project is over, an offer most, if not all, of the group members intend to take them up on, including group member Smiths Grove senior Tawni Barraza.

“I’m going to be graduating, and I plan to go volunteer,” said Barraza, who is majoring in communication studies. “It’s not just a grade.”

It’s that same sentiment that Sarah McMaine, program manager of KAP, said is easy to see within the group.

“To see them be this excited about it,” McMaine said, “you can tell it’s much more than an assignment to them.”