VALPARAISO | Founded in 2010, Club Wonder began as a support group for parents of children with special needs who enjoyed spending time together and sharing information. As time went on, the group decided it wanted to start providing programming for kids like theirs, who are often discouraged from participating in community activities for kids without special needs. The group continued to grow, and in 2012 became an official program of Opportunity Enterprises. Today the group includes a network of over 100 families of children with special needs of all kinds.
“We want Club Wonder to be a networking, educational, and advocacy group that also provides support for families, and reduces the isolation felt by many parents of kids with special needs,” says one of the group’s founders, Kristin Erdei, whose oldest daughter Julia has Down Syndrome. “There’s no reason for anyone to feel alone – there are lots of us out there!”
That support is one of the main reasons why Leslie Nuss-Bamesberger got involved with Club Wonder four years ago when her youngest child Harry was born with Down Syndrome. Harry also suffered a stroke at birth, and as a result has very limited use of his right hand and arm.
“I had a hard time at the beginning,” shares Nuss-Bamesberger. “I was sad, and it was difficult for me to cope. Through the relationships I’ve developed with other Club Wonder families, I’ve been able to recover my purpose and find hope again. When we’re together as a group, we can all relax and not worry about being judged by other parents. I am extremely grateful for Club Wonder and all of the friends I’ve made.”
In addition to planning its own programming and events, the group has gotten involved in projects throughout the community. Club Wonder members played an integral role in the development of the CAN DO Kids program at the Valparaiso YMCA, and are involved with Opportunity Enterprises and the Valparaiso YMCA in making the Y’s Summer Day Camps inclusive for children with special needs. The group is also working with the City of Valparaiso to make Valplayso more accessible, and possibly have a special section for kids with special needs.
“One of our goals is to work with the community to make existing programming open to everyone,” shares Erdei. “All of us are really invested in what we’re doing, and have naturally found what we enjoy and are good at. Our common bond and purpose have allowed us to grow and change over time, and to become great friends.”
Club Wonder programs are open to parents and children with special needs of any type. Parent Meetings take place the second Tuesday of each month from 6:30 – 8:30 at Opportunity Enterprises, and include a guest speaker, followed by time for networking and socializing.
Social Group meets the first and third Friday of each month from 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm at Liberty Bible Church in Chesterton, and includes a craft project, as well as indoor or outdoor playtime depending on the weather.
Club Wonder dance classes take place at United Dance Arts in Valparaiso the last Saturday of each month at 8:00 am. Classes cost $5 per child, which can be paid at the door.
All programs are open to the public, but RSVPs are requested. Interested parents should contact Kristin Erdei by phone at 219-309-7187 or e-mail at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. For the latest Club Wonder news and updates, visit the group’s Facebook page.
The group is also working with the Valparaiso Public Library to host an inclusive story hour each week this summer, and hopes to add more programs in the future.
“We are friends and advocates together, and the possibilities of what we can achieve are limitless,” says Nuss-Bamesberger. “Our hope is that through Club Wonder we can make our kids the best cared-for generation of kids with special needs yet.”
Since 1967, OE has been a non-profit organization which enriches the lives of individuals with disabilities by providing exceptional support and creating meaningful opportunities that allow its consumers to serve as an inspiration to the community. Today, OE serves 1,100 adults and children with disabilities in Porter County and throughout Northwest Indiana. For more information, visit www.oppent.org.