Oh, the Places They Go! Peer Play Pals Explore the Community

Peer Pals1

Making art at the Children’s Museum of Virginia. St. Mary’s Peer Play Pals program is celebrating its two-year anniversary this June.

The littlest kids at St. Mary’s play a lot, enjoying activities in a colorful classroom designed to stimulate their senses as part of our Infant and Toddler Program.

Fridays, though, are different. That’s when they go on field trips: to the new Slover Library in downtown Norfolk, the Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth, the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, and even the Busch Gardens amusement park an hour away in Williamsburg, to name just a few places they’ve been.

Fridays are when Iker, Mackenzie, Jeremyiah and Anthony explore their community. Coming along for the fun are their young friends who don’t have disabilities.

All these adventures are part of Peer Play Pals. The program began as a pilot project in June 2014 as a way for kids at St. Mary’s to play with other kids their own age, in places they’d never been, said Nicole Hoskins Jones, our director of recreational therapy.

Nicole’s initial idea to form a playgroup at her son’s school evolved into a group based at St. Mary’s, with several St. Mary’s employees and their children, as well as both of Nicole’s young sons, involved.

“They’re all just being kids. Sometimes they share. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes there are tears,” Nicole said. “Kids don’t know disabilities. They’re just kids. Everybody learns from this.”

Today, there are two groups of Peer Pals, kids three and under who go on field trips during the day on Fridays, and kids ages four to six who started with the program and are now in school but get together once a month or so.

The trips include activities, snacks and lunches at restaurants. Donors like you make the Peer Pals program possible by giving Visa gift cards that help pay for meals and gift cards to places like Build-a-Bear Workshop.

Sometimes the kids get together at St. Mary’s, for example, holding a “Friendsgiving” dinner around Thanksgiving. The kids shopped for the food and helped prepare a little feast.

Peer Play Pals is about peer modeling, said Erin Vicinski, who runs the Infant and Toddler Program and facilitates Peer Play Pals.

“Kids learn from each other, learn through play,” Erin said. “They can watch me play all day long, but it’s not the same. They see what other kids are doing, how to play appropriately. It’s about social development, to learn what’s acceptable and not acceptable.”

And it’s about being free to be a kid – and to explore.

This article is from the spring 2016  issue of our newsletter, Journeys. Read the entire issue online here. To request a print copy of the newsletter, contact Sonja Barisic, APR, director of marketing communications, at sbarisic@smhdc.org or (757) 352-2700. 

Teens to Dance at Prom, Thanks to Volunteers and Local Businesses

Aby at St. Mary's prom in 2015.

Aby at St. Mary’s prom in 2015.


NORFOLK, Va. (May 17, 2016) — Eighteen young people with disabilities who live at St. Mary’s Home will dress up on Sunday, May 22, to enjoy that typical teen rite of passage: prom. And they’re going to do it in style, with a downtown hotel generously donating ballroom space and several other businesses providing dresses, decorations, flowers, music and styling assistance at no charge.

St. Mary’s has put on prom on its campus every year since 2006. This Sunday’s prom will be the first held off campus, from 3-5 p.m. at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. VisitNorfolk, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, connected St. Mary’s with the hotel, which also offered to provide food plus space for the teens – eight girls and 10 boys – to primp for the big occasion.

“This is going to bring something special to prom that we haven’t had before,” said Nicole Hoskins Jones, St. Mary’s director of recreational therapy, which organizes prom.

The dance is a huge team effort that also involves many staff from other departments, as well as the teens’ families. In addition, students from Grassfield High School in Chesapeake and members of Lifepoint Christian Fellowship in Chesapeake will volunteer at prom, which of course will include the crowning of a king and queen.

Several other local businesses also have agreed to donate products and services:

  • Random Breeze Boutique in Virginia Beach provided prom dresses the girls selected themselves.
  • The new Edward Johnson Salon in Norfolk will send stylists and a makeup artist to the hotel to do the girls’ hair and makeup.
  • The New Leaf florist in Norfolk will provide corsages and boutonnieres.
  • Premier Events of Virginia Inc., of Virginia Beach, offered to donate a décor package, including a mural backdrop, a red carpet with stanchions and velvet ropes, table linens and chair covers, and centerpieces for the tables.
  • Play It Again DJs of Newport News will provide the music.

In addition, the Auxiliary Board of St. Mary’s Home, an annual supporter of prom, will rent tuxedos for the boys and help with any additional expenses to make this event special.

About St. Mary’s Home: St. Mary’s Home in Norfolk provides around-the-clock, specialized residential care for 88 children and 12 adults from throughout Virginia who have multiple, severe disabilities. With the opening of The Albero House at St. Mary’s in 2013 to provide care for adults 22 and over, St. Mary’s Home has shortened its name from St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children.

Sonja Barisic, APR
Director of Marketing Communications
St. Mary’s Home
(757) 352-2700 | cell (757) 412-7071

Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Joins Albero House

2015-11-10- Mary Landfair with Molly and AmeliaMary Landfair, CTRS, (seen here with Molly, left, and Amelia, right) is the new therapeutic recreation specialist for The Albero House. Mary, a former intern in St. Mary’s recreational therapy department, is developing a  program for structured recreation and leisure activities at The Albero House and out in the community. She also will be working with a speech and language pathologist to help the adults who live at The Albero House decide what activities they participate in.

Mary graduated from Old Dominion University and earned her professional certification in September. She said she really loved working with the kids at St. Mary’s and was excited to get to know the adults at The Albero House. She loves to bake, which inspired her to get the adults at The Albero House cooking at least once a week.

(Not So) Lazy Days of Summer

Recreational therapy assistant Mary Eckstein helps Bryan float in St. Mary’s therapy pool.

Twins Brandon and Bryan got a treat today: They spent part of the morning in the pool. The 20-month-old boys arrived at St. Mary’s Home not too long ago for respite, or short-stay, care, and this was the first time they got to go for a dip in the comfortably heated water.

Bryan’s twin, Brandon, with Kathryn Simmons, recreational therapy support specialist. 

While getting in the water is a lot of fun, it’s also therapy. “We are working on their range of motion and sensory stimulation by providing them an experience they don’t typically get,” said Kathryn Simmons, recreational therapy support specialist. “The warm water in the therapy pool helps them loosen up their muscles. That way they can have a greater range of motion in their extremities.”

Mary Eckstein and Colton. 

The pool isn’t just for the littlest children at St. Mary’s Home. Colton, 17, also had the chance to splash around today. And staff of the evening activities and recreational and physical therapy departments frequently work with other children in the pool.

UPDATE: Here’s a video from today’s pool session:

Flowers, Dancing and a King and Queen for the Day

2010 Prom King and Queen: Greg and Amanda    

Some, like Victoria, had attended before and couldn’t wait to go again. Others, like Colton, got to participate for the first time in a tradition of American youth — prom.

“We never thought we’d see him in a tuxedo,” said Colton’s mother, Roxane Ward, who got a little teary-eyed watching her son and 20 other formally attired young adults at St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children dancing in the Atrium on Sunday.   

Cool Colton waits to make his entrance. 

Students from Norfolk Academy turned the Atrium into a disco for the afternoon, using decorations from their own recent prom. They also served as dates for the young adults from the Home.

“We have so much fun at our prom, we thought they should have that fun, too,” said Carter McCabe, co-president of Norfolk Academy’s St. Mary’s Club.

Devonta gets ready for the prom, with a little encouragement from Wayne Smith, a certified nursing assistant.

This was St. Mary’s fifth annual prom, an event organized by the recreational therapy services department. Special thanks go to St. Mary’s Auxiliary Board for paying for tuxedo rentals, the DJ and flowers.

 Victoria has attended all five proms at St. Mary’s Home.  

Congratulations to Greg and Amanda, who were voted Prom King and Queen.

Look for a story about St. Mary’s prom on WTKR NewsChannel 3 tonight.

Biennial Report, Summer Newsletter Online

(Photo by Wéyo.)

St. Mary’s 2007-2008 Biennial Report and the summer 2009 issue of our newsletter, The Guardian, should be reaching mailboxes soon. But you can read them online now at our website to learn about some of the moments that have mattered at St. Mary’s Home.

In the photo above, on the cover of the biennial report, Jahmari enjoys a swim in St. Mary’s therapy pool with a little help from Kathryn Simmons, recreational therapy support specialist.

A Bit of the Virginia Arts Festival at SMHDC

It was a busy weekend at St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children. On Saturday, CEO William C. Giermak led the ninth Family Forum, which was followed by a tropical-themed Family Night program put on by the Recreational Therapy Department. 

On Sunday afternoon, our Atrium was filled with the joyous sounds of steel drum music. The Rhythm Project All Stars performed a free public concert sponsored by Claire and David Benjack and the Auxiliary Board of St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children. The group is the premier performing ensemble of The Rhythm Project world percussion and dance ensemble founded by The Virginia Arts Festival. 

Beyond Cookies: Girl Scouts Make Thank-You Cards

School may be out this week for spring break, but the Girl Scouts of Troop #5067 at St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children  had some paperwork to do today. 

The Scouts gathered in our Atrium to make cards, stamping and gluing and picking out paper in pretty colors. They created beautiful thank-you cards for SMHDC staff to mail to supporters.
In this photo, 17-year-old Ashley works on a card with a bit of help from Kathryn Simmons, an intern in the Recreational Therapy Department.
Would you like a unique thank-you card created by one of St. Mary’s Girl Scouts? Leave a comment on the blog by midnight (Eastern time) on April 19. One lucky commenter’s name will be drawn at random to receive a card.