A little boy named Camden sat on the floor in front of a computer game. He watched and laughed as a character in the game turned into a bright green worm.
Camden was playing on an eye gaze system, which uses a front-facing camera to track the movement of Camden’s pupils. The eye gaze system Camden used was available to him through Lekotek of Georgia, a charitable organization that provides children with disabilities with accessible and adaptive play, technology, toys and more.
The Jackson EMC Foundation recently donated $7,500 to Lekotek of Georgia’s Gainesville location. The donation will serve 10 new families from a seven-county North Georgia region.
“At that location, we’re providing services to 25 families,” said Helene Prokesch, executive director of Lekotek. “A child eligible to participate in Lekotek is a child with any special need. It could be a child with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, a language delay, hearing or visual impairment, sensory delay, spina bifida, children with a genetic disorder, babies born premature and more.”
Prokesch said Lekotek has five satellite locations in addition to its Atlanta main office, and the Gainesville satellite is the most recent addition, starting four years ago.
“The primary service is an hour of play session that is conducted by the Lekotek leader, who has a degree in special education or an allied therapy,” Prokesch said.
Leaders at the Gainesville location are Valerie Cloud, who has a master’s in special education, and Catherine Hagaman, who has a child life specialist degree.
The hourlong play session typically occurs monthly, and children and their families are given adaptive toys and technology to take home and use until the next session. These tools include everything from high-tech iPads and tablets to simpler, tangible toys.
Prokesch said the “whole mission” of Lekotek is about inclusion — including the child wholly in the family and including the family in the community.
“How do we include the child into the community?” she said. “We might have a play date and go to the (Interactive Neighborhood for Kids) Museum. We want our families not to say, ‘I can’t go to INK because my child who has autism is going to run and disturb the museum.’
“The more I’m at this, the more I think this is unique in its mission of inclusion in the community.”
Prokesch said the organization’s services are different from therapy, which has a medical model. Lekotek’s benefits come through play and connection instead.
“One thing I often say is the byproducts of play are in fact the acquisition of skills,” Prokesch said. “So many children come to Lekotek, and because they are relaxed in a play environment, they do develop fine motor skills, speech and language skills and literacy skills.”
Emphasis is placed on what a child can do instead of what a child cannot do, she said.
Prokesch said the $7,500 donated by the Jackson EMC Foundation will allow the organization to serve 10 new families and add more adaptive technology such as the eye gaze system. It will also cover some scholarships. Prokesch said there are $240 in annual dues, but the organization would never turn away a family who could not afford it.
Any individual or charitable organization in the 10 counties served by Jackson EMC may apply for a foundation grant. In the foundation’s June meeting, $38,500 was awarded to agencies serving Hall County residents.
“Jackson EMC has been helping for many years — I think this is the fourth grant,” she said. “And we really want to give them a shoutout.”
For more information on Lekotek of Georgia, go to www.lekotekga.org.