BERLIN – A local high school student is partnering with a Berlin counseling service to host a community event for children with autism and those who struggle in social settings.
On Saturday, April 10, high school senior Brady Esham and Ocean Front Counseling will host Operation Ocean Hope, a program designed to allow children ages 6-12 to participate in fun social activities.
The event, held at the Healing Arts Center in Berlin, will run from 10 a.m. to noon and will feature four different events led by volunteers.
“Right now, our focus is on participants …,” Esham said. “We’re trying to get the kids in the community, and more importantly the parents, to know that this opportunity is there.”
Earlier this year, Esham began his internship with Ocean Front Counseling as part of Worcester Technical High School’s biomedical science program, led by teacher Bill Severn. He said his capstone project, Operation Ocean Hope, aims to help kids who struggle with communication in social settings.
Ocean Front Counseling President Sharon Willey-Spurrier said she was excited to hear Esham’s plans for an inclusive community event.
“I think it’s hard at times for people in the community. They may know somebody with autism, but they are afraid they will say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing,” she said. “So this is just a very relaxed day where we can get to know each other and be able to have a social experience, something that would be fun to do together. I thought Brady really had an excellent idea in coming together with this.”
Esham – who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 – explained his participation in a social skills sleepaway camp gave him many ideas for the activities that will be at Operation Ocean Hope.
He said children will have an opportunity to play outdoor games like cornhole and participate in drawing activities and a rock scavenger hunt. There will also be an indoor campfire, an activity his young campers enjoyed.
“We went back to the cabin and did the indoor campfire …,” he explained. “Throughout the day the kids were really focused on what they were doing. It was hard for them to have that energy and be silly for a little bit. That campfire experience allowed them to do that.”
Esham noted his efforts were made possible with the help of friends and volunteers. For example, the rocks for the scavenger hunt were painted by a member of Boy Scouts of America Troop 225, of which he is an adult leader. And the image used on the event poster was designed by his friend Jaiden Denk.
Willey-Spurrier also highlighted Esham’s efforts to spearhead an event that could be held multiple times throughout the year.
“I think this is a great way to go beyond his initial project,” she said. “It’s something we can continue to do every couple of months to have a social experience for people with and without autism to be able to participate together.”
Operation Ocean Hope will be held on April 10 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Healing Arts Center, located at 617 Franklin Avenue in Berlin. Social distancing and masks will be required.
“I think it’s a wonderful experience for people to make some friends and have some community connections for people with and without autism,” Willey-Spurrier said. “It’s a wonderful time to get outdoors in a safe, socially distanced activity.”