Building community connections: Devereux MA/RI CARES hosts police appreciation brunch
Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Massachusetts and Rhode Island’s Center for Autism Resources and Education Services (CARES) recently hosted a police appreciation brunch to provide students living with autism spectrum disorder and other intellectual and developmental disabilities an opportunity to learn from, and socialize with, local police officers.
Approximately 15 students from the Devereux CARES School attended the brunch, along with two officers from the Fitchburg Police Department.
“We want to thank Fitchburg police and our CARES students and staff for making this event a success,” said Devereux CARES Principal Michael Gann. “Our students had a wonderful time – they asked the police officers questions, and held and tried on some of their gear, including badges and vests. The officers had an opportunity to discuss their roles in our community, and interact with our students, many of whom are nonverbal or minimally verbal.”
Connecting classrooms to the real world
Teacher Suzanne Cyganiewicz helped coordinate the event at Devereux CARES after educating her elementary school students about first responders.
“During class, students created artwork depicting police officers. Having an in-person visit not only helped our students build a personal connection with police officers, but it also enabled them to make the association between what they worked on in class and real life,” explained Cyganiewicz. “This spring, we conducted a similar project with firefighters, and visited a local fire station.”
Fostering positive relationships
During the police officers’ visit, Cyganiewicz asked that one officer be dressed in uniform and the other officer wear regular clothes.
“We wanted our students to understand that police officers are regular people just like us, and we can go to them in a time of need,” Cyganiewicz shared. “By building connections with first responders in our community, we are helping our students become more familiar with these professionals and establish trust. At the same time, first responders are learning how to interact with individuals with disabilities in a positive and meaningful way.”
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