Mercer County CYO aids special-needs preschooler
By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
Since its founding in 1952 in the Diocese of Trenton, the Mercer County CYO has aimed to provide affordable, quality, educational and recreational services, a mission of love and concern for young people of every culture and faith.
Has it met its lofty goal? The bright smile on the face of Sydney Bennett, age 3 1/2, answers that question with a resounding “yes.”
Sydney’s parents, Kristen and Nicholas Bennett of Hamilton, searched diligently for a preschool that might accommodate the special needs of Sydney, who was born prematurely at 33 weeks and has a mild case of cerebral palsy. Children with that diagnosis tend to have a significant delay in some aspects of their physical or mental development, noted Kristen Bennett.
“With Sydney, it is her gross motor skills. She was late sitting up, crawling, then walking independently,” her mother said, “but could walk holding someone’s hand or edging along furniture.”
Physical therapy and in-home daycare aided the youngster’s development at first, but “since she speaks well, I thought it would be a disservice to her not to go to preschool,” said Bennett, who also has a 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Reese. “The real challenge is how her presence would affect everyone else.”
Bennett called multiple preschools near her Hamilton home last September in her attempt to find a positive placement for her daughter, but most programs indicated they were not set up to accommodate Sydney’s needs.
“When I called the CYO, [the] immediate resounding response was, ‘Yes, of course, and here is how we will do it,’” she said. “That is what a mom loves to hear, and they stood by their word. Our decision for Sydney to attend the CYO was solidified after attending the open house in March.”
The CYO Yardville Camp preschool for children ages 3 to 5 earned accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children in August 2018. Tom Mladenetz, executive director of the Catholic Youth Organization of Mercer County, noted, “The CYO has always had a policy to try and do everything we reasonably can to accommodate the needs of every child who comes to us for services. In Sydney’s case, our CYO staff has worked well with her parents from the beginning to make our preschool ideal.”
Though Sydney progressed to independent walking over the summer, when September arrived, the youngster still needed assistance to climb the stairs of the bus that transported her daily to and from the CYO to the nearby Yardville Elementary School for physical and occupational therapy. Once again, it was Mercer CYO personnel to the rescue.
In an email titled “A Big Thank you to all of the CYO Yardville staff,” Bennett wrote the nonprofit agency to explain “how absolutely thrilled my husband and I are with Sydney’s transition into preschool at the CYO.”
Bennett credited Kate Monroe, preschool supervisor, and teacher Jennifer Elias as having gone “above and beyond during Sydney’s transition to two preschools a day, providing comfort and information to my husband and I during what was a stressful transition for all of us.” She expressed gratitude that Elias is open to suggestions from Sydney’s therapist that she can incorporate in her classroom.
Noting the little girl’s “incredible energy and smile,” Elias said, “Sydney has a classroom full of wonderful friends who do not see any differences between them. They hold her hand when we race in the gym and help her up if she falls down. … I am excited to see how far Sydney will continue to grow and climb. She is a strong, independent little girl with a big, bright future ahead of her.”
Mladenetz echoed, “Between the CYO program and the services Sydney receives through the Hamilton Township School District, her needs are being well met at this point in time. All of us on the Yardville CYO staff love having Sydney with us. Sydney’s smile makes my day!”
Bennett extolled the loving care her daughter has received at the Yardville facility in the email, writing, “My heart is warmed by the care and attention Sydney gets on a daily basis from all the faculty and staff at the CYO.” She later added, “The teachers are phenomenal; they are ready to listen and nurture. [Sydney] is learning so much, getting acceptance.”
Bennett would recommend the CYO Yardville facility to any parent, regardless of their child’s capabilities. “Every child has some sort of special physical, emotional or behavioral need,” she said. “The CYO has a plan they are always working.”[[In-content Ad]]