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Community Champions: S.T.E.P.S. Program returns for summer 2021

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 3:19 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - As things continue to open up, opportunities are returning for segments of the community that were even more isolated than others during the pandemic.

Dance moves are only some of the important STEPS taking place at the Coastal Georgia Comprehensive Academy this summer.

“It is a way for these students to participate in camps with some non-disabled kids, some higher-functioning students and give them a chance to socialize during the summer and have some fun and recreation,” said Beverly Blue, Director of S.T.E.P.S. summer camp.

A chance children with profound disabilities have had for three decades through the Summer Therapeutic Enrichment Program of Savannah - until last year, when COVID canceled the S.T.E.P.S. summer camp and further isolated some of the community’s most vulnerable kids.

“He, until STEPS started, had not left the house for 15 months. Nobody wants to sit in their room and watch TV for a year. This gives them the opportunity to do other stuff and be active,” said Kevin Heyman, S.T.E.P.S. Board President and Parent.

S.T.E.P.S. students are again learning dance routines and cooking. Some are taking speech therapy. They all are getting back activities and relationships that have been absent for more than a year.

“It’s really cool to have S.T.E.P.S. back because we were staying in the house so long and I missed the camp and my friends,” said Okemi Jones, S.T.E.P.S. camper.

“They are working with their skills. But there is a social aspect, the coming together, the going places, the seeing new things. These are all stimulating. And for our kids, stimulation is essential to keep them developing.”

S.T.E.P.S. was staring at the possibility of another silent summer until the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System stepped up - providing funding that had been cut from the state budget for staffing and supplies as well as door-to-door transportation for students to ensure the camp could return this year.

“If it was not for the board of education, we would not have camp and these kids would have been home for another summer.”

“I think this is what we have done for many, many years and it serves a very unique and special group of students that are so important to us that we just wanted to continue offering those services,” said Kimberly Hancock, SCCPSS Associate Superintendent for Learning Support Services.

Which allows the WTOC Community Champion at S.T.E.P.S. to offer opportunities where that have been missing for so long.

“As a parent of a STEPS child, having a place for my child to go with other children and appropriate activities is invaluable and we are so happy that it is happening again this year.”

“It’s such a blessing to families and our boys and girls just to be able to come and enjoy and learn and have fun and engage.”

“These children are worth it. They’re important and we are glad we can offer it.”

The Coastal Georgia Comprehensive Academy donated the use of its space for the S.T.E.P.S. camp with one day’s notice when the camp’s previous location became unavailable this year.

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