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Hanover learning center offers creative, therapeutic outlet for those with special needs
Hanover learning center offers creative, therapeutic outlet for those with special needs
Hanover learning center offers creative, therapeutic outlet for those with special needs

Published on: 08/24/2023


HANOVER  Shortly after Julie Quill's son, Sean, aged out of a residential program for individuals with autistic spectrum disorder in 2019 and moved home to Norwell, she left her recreational therapy job to have more time to assist him.

But it wasn't long before Quill returned to the world she loved  while still having the time for her son.

Quill left her job in January 2020. But when the pandemic hit two months later, she was soon fielding calls from caretakers of individuals she worked with at her previous job, hoping she would be able to offer virtual art classes.

While Quill didn't plan to offer online activities, she did have a big red barn on her property that could safely host small classes while adhering to pandemic guidelines.

Arts and Rec was born.

"This kind of blew up from there," Quill said.

A business born in a barn

Quill, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, began offering art sessions in the barn a few times a week, providing individuals with a therapeutic outlet they'd been unable to access prior in the pandemic.

Equipped with heating and air conditioning, she utilized the barn year round  though she said that during the coldest days, coats were a welcome addition.

"I was growing quickly, and once the pandemic mandates were lifted, I was running out of space," Quill said. "I didn't have enough space to run what I wanted to run  a very good problem to have."

In February 2022, Quill moved the business to the space in Hanover it now occupies, hiring her first full-time staff member soon afterward. The new, larger space allows for more participants and an ever-expanding program of classes and workshops.

Servicing a broad community

Though the majority of Arts and Rec program participants are 22 and over  the age individuals with special needs transition from public school programs to adult services  classes have included individuals between ages 7 to 74. Quill described the population as a mix of those with ASD, down syndrome, physical disabilities, and other situations that benefit from additional assistance.

"I will, to the best of my ability, take anyone who comes in here," Quill said. "If they need some extra support, we will ask for that extra support to come. We teach to the person sitting in from of us, we work with the person sitting in front of us, we will modify for that person."

Art and Rec classes cover a wide population of mediums, from multimedia, clay, collaging, painting and drawing to hip hop dance, yoga, cooking and a book club. The state Department of Developmental Services funds a four-hour drop-in respite program at Arts and Rec every Friday and every other Saturday.

"(Therapeutic recreation) can be used in so many modalities," Quill said. "It's wonderful."

Outside day programs servicing the same community bring participants to Arts and Rec classes, and Quill also works with nursing home residents, as well as those affiliated with memory care facilities and councils on aging. One-on-one classes are offered as well.

The flexibility offered by Arts and Rec's a la carte-style services has allowed for more individuals to access this type of therapeutic recreation and to come and go as their needs dictate.

"We've become a kind of intermediary for people who are waiting for a program or people who are only going to a program half time," Quill said. "This fills some of those gaps and allows them to still be enriched and be social. It's worked out really well."

Value of a creative outlet

With a business born out of COVID-19, Quill sees firsthand the needs of the special needs community.

"There are a lot of things that have closed since COVID, and this population has a lot of catching up to do," she said. We've got people who were in a program before COVID and are waiting to go back, people who are turning 22 who can't get into a program yet, and some people who have decided part time is better for them. We're all over the board with who and why they are coming here."

Part of the value of the therapeutic recreation, Quill said, is providing an outlet for processing and expressing emotions, whether by shedding anger and frustrations at an intensive drum circle session or nonverbal participants painting something inspired by a great day.

"For a lot of them, the output is whatever they're feeling that day," she said. "It doesn't matter your age or ability  it's where you're at that day. Having that creative outlet is just awesome for these guys. We've watched a lot of progress, not only in the art skills but in their social skills and their fine motor skills. We meet you where you are and help you get to where you want to be."

Initially, participants' stated goals with Arts and Rec focus on the social, recreation and artistic aspect, but Quill said they often soon naturally start working on life goals such as focusing.

"The goal is that they're learning and succeeding in all of what they're doing," Quill said. "The pride alone and the self esteem that this type of program can bring to an individual is just quite phenomenal."

Author :James E. Kukstis

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