Inside the activity room at Rock Creek Park, more than 40 exceptional adults came together for an epic Thursday morning.
On March 21, the Dawson County Parks and Recreation department hosted its second EPIC event, an arts and crafts session at the park where adults with disabilities came from Dawsonville, Dahlonega and Cumming to partake in fun activities including slime making, painting, creating chalk Easter eggs and assembling goodie bags full of tasty treats.
“We’re having a blast,” Programs and Facilities Coordinator Buffie Hamil said. “I think we’re having just as much fun as they are.”
The Thursday morning fun is part of the new EPIC program that began at the park in February.
EPIC, which is short for "Exceptional People In our Community," is a free program hosted at Rock Creek Park the third Thursday of every month to enrich the lives of adults with disabilities.
“(It’s) definitely something we want to see grow more,” Parks and Recreation Director Matt Payne said. “This first year is just a starting point. We want to keep this going and keep it moving because obviously these guys are going to be here and they deserve park and rec opportunities just like everybody else.”
It all began when the park staff started noticing a group of adults with special needs enjoying the amenities at the park.
They would come by the park every two to three days, happily playing competitive rounds of basketball or enjoying outdoor picnics with a lovely fall breeze.
It got the staff thinking.
Though the park provides a place for the group to play and socialize, Customer Relations Specialist Kris Rowan posed the question “what are we really doing to serve them?”
Seeing a need to provide activities for adults with special needs, the department unveiled its EPIC program that provides free activities and fun to an underserved group in the community.
“It’s just something that we feel like we could give back to them because they just love life and they come in here and they’re so sweet,” Rowan said. “We’re just going to try to do something fun with them.”
To get the program up and running, the park started with a viewing of Space Jam and movie theater treats like popcorn Feb. 21.
Buses from Avita Community Partners and Creative Enterprises, two centers that serve exceptional adults, as well as a number of individual caretakers pulled up to the park ready for a fun day at the movies.
In total more than 30 people attended the inaugural event.
“Last month I was here when they were getting off the buses and they were all talking about the movie. Everybody was so excited,” sponsor Melinda Spurlin said. “It’s just nice to see them be with their peers on a day that’s all about them.”
Spurlin, of Modern Woodmen Fraternal Financial, said the not-for-profit company was eager to step in to sponsor the program, paying for all materials and supplies so that the EPIC program does not cost anything from the park department or county’s budget.
“We’re very big in supporting the community,” Spurlin said. “This is what we’re all about, this community organization and support. It was wonderful to be able to come and sponsor this event so everybody could come out and have a great time.”
Each month features a different activity with the next being an Easter egg hunt and canvas painting April 18.
During the summer months when the weather is nice, Rowan said the plan is to host picnics, outdoor games like kickball and whiffle ball and a day at the Rotary Island Splash Pad.
To end the first year with a bang, Rowan said her team has big plans.
“Our number one goal is to have a formal Christmas banquet for them in December where they get all dressed up,” Rowan said.
Rowan is already reaching out into the community to organize the Christmas banquet, with plans to have a DJ and Santa Claus stopping by for a visit while the exceptional adults enjoy a delicious meal and fellowship.
With two successful events under their belt, the park staff is excited to build friendships and provide more opportunities for the exceptional adults in the community.
“You can come in on a really bad day and you can see them and your day just gets better,” Rowan said. “They just have that air about them that makes everybody’s day.”
Looking ahead to the future, Payne plans to make EPIC one of the main programs for park next year with a designated staff member in charge of coordinating the activities.
“It won’t just be a monthly thing. It’ll probably be one of our biweekly or something where we could serve these guys a little bit more,” Payne said. “We wanted to start off slow this year to make sure we could actually handle it and I think we can.”
The EPIC festivities are held from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. the third Thursday of the month.
Currently, space is limited to 50 participants per date. Please call or email for more information or to RSVP at (706) 344-3646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.