Tomlinson South Meridian YMCA offers THRIVE Center, an inclusive space for people of all abilities

Posted at 6:33 PM, Jan 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-21 20:33:56-05

MERIDIAN, IDAHO — The THRIVE Center, located at the Tomlinson South Meridian YMCA, is meant to be a place for all. The center aims to make an inclusive space for all people including those who are neurodiverse or have different ability statuses.

Once a month, they offer a program called FIREFLIES. The program provides a three-hour camp for participants who need one-on-one care. With several volunteers from the community, the center is able to care for each participant personally. FIREFLIES also works as respite care for the guardians and caregivers of the participants.

The center, which is a few years old now, came as a response to community input. The YMCA wanted to create a space where Inclusion was thought about from the time you enter the YMCA.

“Build it in such a way that inclusion is not an adaptation," Said Mike Kapuscinski, the Executive Director of the Tomlinson South Meridian YMCA. "Inclusion truly begins from the minute you walk in through the door. We don’t have to do anything special because we already thought about it.”

Jill Pettey's daughter is a participant in the FIREFLIES program. As a parent, Pettey was originally nervous to leave her daughter alone. But, after Pettey saw the fun her daughter had, and the expertise of the volunteers in FIREFLIES, her concerns were eased. Pettey now loves the program, and what it means to her daughter.

“To know that they love her and they’re excited to see her," Pettey said. "And they can’t wait to play with her. As a parent, you can’t get anything better than that.”

There are also benefits outside the YMCA. Aaron Elton, whose son is in the program, says families that are involved with the program become a part of a community.

“There’s a connection with another parent with special needs and you don’t have to explain it, you just know," Elton said. "I get it, you get it, let’s try to have our kids play.”

Kapuscinski says it's important to remember, no one is ever turned away from an inability to pay. Financial aid is always available.

For information about how you can get involved, visit the THRIVE Website.