Imagine a life where you are not able to participate in many activities most of us took for granted – learning to swim, visiting the San Diego Zoo, hiking, bowling or watching the Padres. For many children, before they lived at the San Diego Center for Children, their childhood looked very different.

All of the Center’s children need the therapeutic services they provide because of things that have happened in their young lives, whether it is trauma or developing an autism spectrum disorder, but they also need a happy, healthy and fun-filled childhood. Many of these children, prior to going to the Center, were excluded from regular community activities because of their differences. Of the 600 children to whom they provide services, up to 75 live on their 9-acre main campus in central San Diego. Summertime allows them to creatively combine therapy and fun to help the kids make progress in their treatment. The excellent recreational therapy program provides tailored programs for the children living at the Center.

Each week during the summer, a fun theme is chosen and includes different activities. Themes range from “Summer Olympic Games & Sports Week,” “Wild Animal Jungle Safari Week,” and “Wet, Wild, Wacky Water Week” among others. Through donations, activities include trips to the beach, sports competitions, team relays with the “Olympic Torch,” touring the Olympic Training Center, completing a scavenger hunt in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, attending surf camp, and going to Knott’s Soak City.

In addition to these fun activities, one of the most important programs they provide to the kids is community integration. Participating in community programs allows the kids to develop social skills, learn about resources in the community, and introduces them to fun, healthy activities. With donations, they are able to purchase memberships for the children to local YMCA and even have a Girl Scout troop so they can continue these activities once they have completed their therapeutic treatment. They give back to the community through volunteer projects such as beach clean-ups, doing helpful projects at local nursing homes, and helping the homeless. By helping others in the community, it normalizes their life experiences and shows them the wider world.

The Center’s recreational therapy activities teach the children about creating a healthy life. The outcomes include improved attention span, better frustration tolerance, friendship and team-building skills and improved self-confidence. They learn project management skills – starting a task, troubleshooting, asking for help if needed and finishing it. From there, they can learn about their strengths and how those might translate to other projects. Ultimately, these tools help the children with other aspects of their future life – staying in school, getting into college, finding a job and relating to a diverse group of people.

With help from the San Diego Canter for Children’s donors, these programs are made possible. With your help, they are able to normalize their kids’ life experiences, build their skills, reverse their deficits and give them happy childhood memories – something we should wish for every kid.