Not all spaces are readily welcoming for kids with special needs, and that can include many sports venues. Seeing an opportunity at his local ice rink, Associated Bank regional credit officer Greg Simkowski took action to create a more inclusive experience for kids in the Wausau area.
As the coach for his five-year-old son’s hockey team and dad of a four-year-old daughter with autism, Simkowski and his wife, Katrina, decided to develop an event for kids with special needs to enjoy the game.
The hockey team donated ice rink time and the couple worked with local organizations to make the event more inclusive for different needs. They lowered the lighting, turned off buzzers and recruited volunteers to help kids engage with the ice on their terms, whether that was on skates, shoes or a sled.
About 20 children participated in the inaugural event, each receiving a sensory bag with sunglasses, fidget toys, treats, t-shirts and other giveaways. Though some were nervous getting started, they were all smiles by the end.
The Simkowskis are already planning the next event. “Children with special needs deserve the space to try new experiences and have fun just like any other kid,” said Simkowski. “In addition to being a fun event, it’s beneficial for volunteers and others to see kids being kids and the importance of creating welcoming environments for all children to explore and interact with the world.”
Watch local news coverage of the event, including what one parent said of the opportunity. Regional Credit Officer Greg Simkowski at event with daughter, McKenna.