Light Up the Spectrum Center about inclusion of all persons
By Katie Collins
Follow Katie @Lifestyles51
MILFORD - A new inclusive community center where fun and learning can happen for any and all has opened in Milford.
Co-owner Natasha Ferousis called Light Up the Spectrum Center “sensory rich” because of the components available to aid those with special needs, when they play and learn.
All children however, are welcome and will feel safe and celebrated at Light Up the Spectrum Center, because the focus isn’t on their struggles but rather, is an opportunity to “celebrate strengths” since ideas can be supported Ferousis says.
Play has lessons
When her son Giovani DelCastillo was diagnosed with ADHD and emotional dysregulation while in the first grade, Ferousis found sensory stimulation to help him. At Light Up the Spectrum Center, all components are meant to assist developmental disabilities since the children will play, but also learn when they see what can be done in the children’s kitchen, doctor’s office or other common settings. In such environments, Ferousis says the children know what they want and will “gravitate towards what they need.”
To understand how stoves become hot, there’s a children’s oven or for children who have a need to sway, there’s the swings available. Since communication may be a challenge, there’s the music room where a nonverbal child can communicate using drums because “music is food for the soul” Ferousis says. For children afraid of thunder, there’s an area where sound activated LED lights can replicate the sound of thunder with lighting. The various imaginary areas, are places to learn and “work through fears.”
In the game room, with the mini pool table, skee-ball and basketball, Ferousis says children can have fun but also socialize and learn about “healthy competition.” Such activities are important, because kids will have fun but also experience character development.
With the different resources, Ferousis says they are aspects of everyday life that people overlook, but have an impact on a child’s growth. For soft play, children can crawl through a tunnel and practice balancing all the while listening and communicating with their parents. Although its imaginary play now, it’s all “realistic” Ferousis says, because of the lessons of kitchen safety when children learn how to cut vegetables or shop in the store and use the credit card machine. By teaching these lessons now, Ferousis believes it helps children build confidence and listen to others.
A place for everyone
With a center available to all children, special needs or not, Ferousis says it’ll be a place for everyone to feel safe and have the chance to “thrive and flourish.” Ferousis’s goal, is to embrace the differences of each person and help individuals with a diagnosis “learn to play, explore and grow together.”
In order to create an “inclusive environment” where people “feel safe and nurtured” Ferousis says Light Up the Spectrum Center is basically a “platform” for that to happen because children will be able to explore their interests.
To help low-income families, Ferousis intends on creating a nonprofit to raise money because no one should be left out she says. Because her sister will be opening a café in the building, it’ll offer those with special needs a place to work and have job training.
Sensory stimulation is a significant component to the center, with sensory and task boxes that’ll offer age-appropriate resources, like a messy time that Ferousis says will help with development. Such needs, Ferousis wasn’t aware of with her son, so people can learn what’s important for their child. Then there’s stimuli activities like playing with the LED Brite Light or the music room, swing or the ball pit that are for “soft play” to help with balance and agility Ferousis explains.
Equipment in the center, such as the sensory gym are part of “everyday sensory stimulation” Ferousis says. If a person is anxious, there’s lavador oils to calm them; or, if they’re ADHD hyper there is the gym for a vestibular activity that’ll allow the child to run. In the imaginative play area, children can gain a better understanding of what to expect when visiting a doctor’s office or playground.
Additional equipment includes a rock wall with a harness that children can climb or crawl through an obstacle course. Eventually, there will be an exercise room and a track system so children in wheelchairs can be active too and feel “independent” Ferousis says. Some of these components as of now, are just ideas because Ferousis is seeking grants, but she expects the center to offer something for everyone.
Nurturing an idea
A single mom, Ferousis sees the struggles her son has, but when he has ideas, she wants to nurture them. After working in the medical field for years, Ferousis went on to help those with developmental disabilities by training people how to interact with clients. Now, she hopes to continue that training at Light Up the Spectrum Center.
As of now, Ferousis says she has many ideas and as a Reiki practitioner, she would like to integrate energy healing as part of a “holistic approach” to the center because she believes the healing can help people with past traumas and depression. With so many ideas, she says the “sky is the limit.”
Community and family
By having aspects of society and adding imagination, Ferousis says components like a “magical garden” with fairies and flowers can become a community garden or with the Book of Wisdom children can learn about healing properties all the while having fun and learning human conditioning since she feels children aren’t “connected” today. Despite that disconnection, she is excited and feels everyone are “magical beings.”
Inclusiveness is important Ferousis says, because socialization is hard for some children and getting those with disabilities involved can be even harder, so she wants to hear what parents have to say, so social clubs can be created for the interests of the individuals and friendships can be made through those interests. The events may be for unicorn paintings, squirt gun fun, smoothies or a pizza party.
Ferousis says family time at Light Up the Spectrum Center can give people an opportunity to learn since they may encounter obstacles, but they can try something new with the various resources available and if it fails, they’ll see why and work to address the difficulties.
Since she has ADD, Ferousis says everyday she tries to extend her “comfort zone” and she tells her son that despite his having ADHD that is actually his “superpower” because he is better able to think with his heart. It’s from her own experience, that Ferousis feels able to help others because she wants to “lead by example.”
Seeing her son struggle, Ferousis says all the training in the world could not have prepared her to see him so upset. While there has been progress, it can still be hard and since she feels sensory stimulation is different at school; Ferousis would like to fundraise for schools so there can be a light or sensory room in school and eventually have a mentoring program where older students work with younger students so there’s more inclusion. As of now though, Ferousis says its “hard to balance” everything because she still has a fulltime job. Ultimately, her goals is to “spread love and compassion and kindness” because she feels everyone should be kind.
A family undertaking
Even before Giovani was born, Ferousis felt kindness was important, but she says he is a “special child” because of how aware he is to his surroundings. Giovani has inspired Ferousis to establish the Light Up the Spectrum Center that’s been a family mission with Ferousis’s sister Anastasia Ferocious is co-owner and their father Konstantinos Ferousis who is from Greece and owns the building has applied his master carpenter skills to building the various components.
Ferousis says the center will be a “home away from home” where people will feel safe and celebrated because rather than focusing on one’s struggles, it’ll be a place to “celebrate strengths.”
Many ideas for the future
Because the center is new, ideas are still developing, but Ferousis says social groups are in development and summer programs and private birthday parties will happen. She wants to know what parents need, so rather than having to work to help their children, they can do so by having fun. Ferousis is “super excited” with the many plans she has.
To encourage independence, Ferousis would like to have cameras so parents can watch their children who have a disability be active, without having to be present. That idea is one of many that she feels is “different” and another aspect of Light Up the Spectrum Center that is “outside of the box.”
For the community
Raising a child isn’t easy Ferousis knows, so she expects the center to be a place where friendships can be made whether a child has a disability or not because everyone will take part in activities that’ll benefit the community and raise funds for organizations with similar missions.
Although everyone has “challenges and limits,” Ferousis says that shouldn’t matter and so, through Light Up the Spectrum Center she wants to “bring unity to the community” so everyone is “loved and accepted and celebrated.”
For more information about Light Up the Spectrum Center call 570-677-6701 or visit the Facebook page.