JCC STARS 'a natural fit' for Mande

August 22, 2016

JCC STARS 'a natural fit' for Mande

It can be a challenge finding enriching programs for a child with special needs, according to Shannon and Erick Matheis. Programs can be far from home, or they don’t truly fit your child’s needs—or, says Shannon, they are inclusionary programs but lack the support that special needs children require.

That’s why they describe JCC STARS (Students That Are Really Special) as “our saving grace for services outside of school” for their daughter Miranda “Mande” Matheis, age 14.

Shannon Matheis stumbled upon STARS accidentally, when she met JCC Center of Inclusion and Special Needs Director Jody Margolis. Jody told her a little about the STARS programs available to Mande, who was ten at the time. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the four years that she has been a part of STARS, Mande has participated in almost all of the STARS programs: STARS Yoga, Music Therapy, Adaptive Art, Upstream Arts, STARS programs at the Hy & Richard Smith JCC Water Park, and Sunday STARS—which pairs volunteer tweens and teens with the STARS youth for fun activities and social interaction. Her parents say that Mande has come a long way as a result of her involvement in STARS.

“STARS is where everything started for Mande,” her mom explained. Whereas Mande began in STARS needing a therapist by her side at all times, she no longer requires a therapist for the activities. “She’s completely independent, self-sufficient,” Shannon said, adding that in the STARS Yoga classes, Mande is now able to actually serve as a role model to her fellow students, encouraging them. Her goal is to someday teach yoga.

Mande’s two sisters—Guinevere, age 17, and Adelaide “Addie,” age 11—have also gotten involved in STARS as supporters and advocates for their sister. Guinevere initially started taking STARS Yoga alongside Mande to be there as a helper. She is now learning how to be a yoga assistant outside of the JCC classes. Her involvement has made Mande’s transitions smoother between STARS and school or home. Addie has volunteered as a Sunday STARS peer and also enjoys joining in the STARS activities at the JCC Water Park. Although Addie is a quieter girl, she is able to be a leader through STARS.

Although her sisters volunteer, Mande feels like STARS is “Mande’s space.” She is proud of the STARS programming being her thing. “It is such a natural fit for her,” says Mande’s dad Erick. “Mande feels safe here [at the JCC],” adds Shannon. “She takes ownership of the JCC. It’s her second home base.”

This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 Journal.

To learn more about STARS, contact Jody Margolis at 414-967-8206 or jmargolis@jccmilwaukee.org.