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Staff and fellow participants at AbilityFirst’s after-school programs have become like a second family for Clara. She has been with AbilityFirst for the past 11-plus years, until the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the on-site after-school program at the Lawrence L. Frank Center. Nevertheless, through the availability of virtual programming, Clara has been able to maintain a connection with her program staff and participants, who are now her friends.

Ever since she was 10 years old, Clara has benefitted from hands-on instruction at AbilityFirst. She tends to have a hard time expressing herself verbally. In a communication setting where other students might respond to questions or understand how to interact, Clara can be unsure about how to engage. Through personal guidance, she has been developing awareness about behavioral expectations in an interpersonal setting.

The center’s after-school program focuses on assisting participants, like Clara, to do their best when it comes to language skills and peer interaction. AbilityFirst staff help her in these areas by engaging her in activities and using verbal prompts and visual cues to guide her along, or by writing prompts down in order to communicate with her as clearly as possible. Clara had been responding well to these learning tools, and now with online programming, she is continuing to progress.

“If Clara didn’t have this online learning with the after-school program, she wouldn’t be engaged in any way other than what I try to offer her,” says mom Jenny, a teacher outside of AbilityFirst, who has also been providing online learning to her own grade school students during the pandemic. Jenny added that Clara has really benefitted from receiving expert guidance and interaction with her peers via the virtual learning system.

With the online presence of AbilityFirst in their home, the program really has become a family affair. Clara’s younger brother Lucas has supported AbilityFirst by volunteering with the annual fundraiser, Stroll & Roll. Now, by watching Clara interacting with AbilityFirst staff and friends, Jenny has had a chance to get better acquainted with them as well:

“Getting to know the different after-school kids (during online learning) and to see that they know Clara’s quirks, her personality and her phrases, has been really rewarding.”

In the meantime, Clara has been able to experience an important sense of consistency and regularity in her schooling and social life.


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