Community

Safety Village modifies itself for children with autism

IOWA CITY — Ten-year-old Landon Schafer grinned as he practiced putting on his safety helmet.

He was one of eight children who participated this week in a modified version of Safety Village.

This was the first time the annual summer camp was available to children with cognitive and developmental disabilities ages six to 12 years old. The camp, begun in 1994, aims to teach safety in the home and in the community.

“It’s turned out really well so far and I think the kids like it,” said Matt Farrey, an Iowa City firefighter and director of the modified program. “I think they’re getting the one-on-one instruction that they need to succeed.”

Safety Village, held at Grant Wood Elementary School in Iowa City, is a two-week summer camp in which children learn pedestrian and car safety and experience in what to do in real-life emergencies, such as how to exit a burning home or how to call 911.

But the modified version, which ends Friday, is shorter — four days — and focuses on fewer of the Safety Village topics, often reiterating the same over several days — pedestrian safety and “stranger danger” especially.

This year drew eight participants, most of whom are on the autism spectrum, Mercy Iowa City spokeswoman Denise Maier said.

On Thursday, participants heard from local police officers on pedestrian and bike safety before heading outside with area firefighters to participate in a fire safety exercise in a “practice home” — a modified trailer used in educational events.

The eight children also spent time in the child-sized “village” the Safety Village is most known for. Built by Iowa City physician Dr. Charles Skaugstad, participants pedal-driven cars around a set of roads with working stop lights and a railroad crossing arm.

Landon Schafer was signed up by his grandmother, Rose Conley, 68, of Cedar Rapids.

“I do whatever I think would be helpful to him,” Conley said. “Safety is a big thing for me. I have talked with him about it at home, but it’s always helpful when it’s done in a peer setting and when a professional is the one that actually says it.”

Conley said she hopes her grandson learns enough from the camp to be helpful in the case of an actual emergency.

But for Amanda Sapir, 40, of Iowa City, she hopes the camp will help her son, five-year-old Kepler Parterfield, learn how to use those emergency tools properly.

Sapir said Kepler has pulled his school’s fire alarm in the past.

“He loves fire alarms, trains, stop lights — maybe too much,” Sapir said. “So hopefully he learns some boundaries.”

Farrey said they plan to hold the modified Safety Village again next year.

The camp held in conjunction by Mercy Iowa City, the Iowa City fire and police departments, the Coralville Police Department, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa Children’s Museum.

For more information on the Safety Village, visit www.mercyiowacity.org/safety-village or contact Denise Maier of Mercy Iowa City at (319) 358-2658.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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