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West Seneca welcomes TIES (Together Including Every Student) Program

The West Seneca Central School District this year is offering students the opportunity to participate in TIES, Together Including Every Student. TIES promotes the participation of students who have developmental disabilities in inclusive school, recreational and community activities with trained peer support.

“Through the program, a trained peer volunteer would provide support to someone who would like to join a school club, attend a sporting event, participate in a class at the Community Recreation Center, like a cooking class, and other opportunities,” said Lori Carden, TIES coordinator for the West Seneca Central School District.

Participants who have developmental disabilities join activities where they can develop recreational interests, learn about their community and have fun with peers.

Peer volunteers learn how to support participants according to their individual needs, gain more understanding of disabilities and diversity, and make a positive difference in a peer’s life.

“It is very flexible. Once an application is completed the volunteer will go through a 50-minute training. After training we will call the volunteer about an activity that a student with a developmental disability would like to participate in, and if they are available that’s great, if not we will call about another opportunity,” Carden said. “Without the student volunteer support, students who have disabilities are unable to participate in activities that everyone else can participate in. We match the students according to interest so that everyone can have fun at the event.”

The peer volunteer training workshop is designed to extend awareness of inclusion, diversity and language of respect.

The volunteer workshop covers the following areas:

  • Definition of developmental disability.
  • How diversity enriches our lives and community.
  • The critical role of friendship in a person’s social and emotional growth.
  • Examples of support and modifications that the individual may need.
  • Person first language.
  • The skills and attributes of an effective peer volunteer.
  • The role and responsibilities of the peer volunteer.

The emphasis is on creating a relationship of mutual respect in which the specific goal is successful participation of each individual in a group activity. Friendship, which cannot be mandated or created at will, may arise from this opportunity but is not a specific goal for the partner team.

Carden and other TIES coordinators work closely with their school districts to identify eligible participants, recruit and train peer volunteers, communicate with activity leaders, and make necessary arrangements for each activity.

An activity may be one event, such as attending a school dance or after school football game, or an ongoing class – dance, martial arts, music, gymnastics, etc. – or continuing participation in a community organization such as Scouts. If an activity is ongoing, two or more peer volunteers may share the commitment.

Participants are children and young adults between the ages of 8 and 21 who have developmental disabilities. Individuals receive an application from the TIES coordinator that asks about interests and what support is needed to be successful.

Support is individualized and can be in physical, social/behavioral, or language areas. Participants list the activities they would like to join or request information about desired activities. The coordinator discusses the chosen activities and needed support with the participant and/or parents.

Then, an individualized plan is developed that guides the peer volunteer’s support. The coordinator also communicates with the activity leader to introduce the TIES program and assess what individual accommodations may be needed.

Any activity that is organized and has an adult activity leader is available to the TIES program. Modifications, as needed, are arranged on an individual basis through the collaboration of the TIES coordinator, the activity leader, parents, teachers and other interested parties.

Volunteers and partners will provide whatever support will make the activity successful and enjoyable for participants. It may be as general as keeping participants company in a new activity, or it may be specific physical, verbal or social support.

As a volunteer, students will be providing support to a young person with a disability in a community recreational activity. The individualized support plan that the TIES coordinator gives volunteers will contain, in detail, strategies to help participants enjoy success in the activity and make friends with other members of the group.

Some examples of strategies include:

  • Cue the participant to say, “Hi!” to other members of the group.
  • Model turn-taking for the participant.
  • Break instructions down into short sentences.
  • Use conversation starters.

The TIES coordinator aspires to match peer volunteers with participants based on common interest, age and gender. Both parties complete similar applications on which they list their interests, hobbies, or activities they are currently involved in, or have been involved in before. From this information, the TIES coordinator proceeds to make arrangements.

The program is designed to be individual and flexible. If at any time either the participant or peer volunteer feels that he or she was not correctly matched, the coordinator will find another partner.

TIES is a program of Starbridge, and is funded by the Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Regional Office and the Western New York Developmental Disabilities Regional Office.

For more information or to get involved with TIES West Seneca program, contact Carden at lcarden@starbridgeinc.org to be partnered with a peer volunteer, or to sign up to become a peer volunteer.

Together Including Every Student was developed in 1997 by two parents of children who have disabilities. The program promotes the participation of students and young adults who have developmental disabilities in inclusive, organized extracurricular and community activities through the support of trained student volunteers.

TIES is currently in place in more than 30 school districts throughout the Western, Central and Finger Lakes regions of New York, and is now in the West Seneca schools.