Huntsville Parks & Recreation has recently added new programs to serve people with special needs. The Special Populations Program was established in July of 2018 to assist the thousands of individuals in Huntsville who have physical and mental disabilities.
Tia Clayton is the program’s supervisor. The City added her role within the past year due to the growing need to provide these services, and we visited with Clayton and her team during the summer to see children in action.
Clayton says these youngsters are from all around Huntsville, and the goal is to get them out and active.
Clayton is from Birmingham and has a Masters in Kinesiology and a Bachelors in Sports Management from Alabama A&M University. She has experience in recreational facilities from when she lived in Jacksonville, Florida, and she also worked with special needs students at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. She said she knew the Special Populations Program would be impactful.
According to Clayton, “It always just gave me a different type of excitement, and my employees say it all the time – they don’t feel like they’re at work. We’re playing and we’re enjoying them, and that’s what they’re looking for – someone to play with them, not someone just sitting behind a recreation counter or who’s just opening up the gym for them. Actually swing on the swings with them, throw the balls with them.”
Clayton says these children don’t want to lounge inside all summer. “They want people to actually play with them,” she explained. That is exactly what Natalie, Andy, and Jordan do. This cheerful staff delights in spending time and playing with these special individuals of Huntsville. Children participate in swimming, arts, crafts, basketball, corn hole, pickle ball, and playground activities.
Clayton shares that the hours of the program are designed for their parents to go to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, and other errands. The program tries to keep a ratio of four children to one staff member.
She continues by sharing other special needs opportunities Huntsville Parks & Rec offers, which the students take full advantage of such as adaptive swim lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the Saturday basketball program. Clayton explains connections and friendships made during this program, specifically “the older girls with the kids, they work together well, and they had never met each other before.”
She explains they don’t only get a chance to be around people like them here, they get a chance to exercise and do activities with like-minded friends.
On the day we visited, the program included children ages 9 to 17. There are additional activities for special needs adults.
Any Huntsville resident with special needs is welcome to participate in the Special Populations activities. For more info, call 256-427- 5490 or email special.coord@huntsvilleal. gov. You can also visit huntsvilleal.gov and search ‘Special Populations’.
Contributed by Ellie Vaughn, Marketing & Communications Intern
This article is published in the August 2019 issue of Initiatives magazine.