Dan McKenna said being the parent of a child with autism doesn’t have to be a lonely experience.
That’s why the sports and wellness director at the YMCA in State College helped spearhead Connecting the Pieces — an free support group aimed at helping families of children with special needs or autism — network among each other.
“You think it’s a lonely experience, but there are so many people in the same situation,” he said.
McKenna, also the father of a 5-year-old son with autism, said the event will be held regularly for free to the public. The goal is for parents and/or guardians to congregate among each other while volunteers help facilitate activities for the children with time spent playing in the gymnasium and in the swimming pool.
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“This really hits home for me so I’m kind of wearing two hats with this one,” McKenna said.
First held July 22, the event included eight families.
“I had one parent tell me she was finally able to let her guard down,” McKenna said. “I get it.”
What the program needs now, McKenna said, is more volunteers. Ideally, he’d like to have one volunteer per child.
McKenna said he is modeling the event after a similar program at a YMCA in New Jersey that is held twice per month.
“It’s in a much more densely populated area, but we hope to regularly hold ours,” he said. “It’s an idea that’s been kicked around for forever and we finally got it going.”
Connecting the Pieces
When: 4-6 p.m. Saturday
Location: State College Family YMCA, 677 W. Whitehall Road
Contact: YMCA, 237-7717