LifeTown is an interactive village where children with special needs have fun while practicing essential life skills through roleplay.
Based at the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center at 6220 E. Dublin-Granville Road, LifeTown was designed for special-needs children in grades K-12 by education experts, along with input from parents. Management of money and time and how to interact with others are among the skills taught at LifeTown.
The New Albany Community Foundation recently awarded a $3,200 grant to the program. The community foundation awards scores of grants each year to worthy nonprofit organizations that help others, enrich lives and work toward the betterment of our community.
To date, the foundation has awarded more than $11 million in grants through the generosity of its donors.
LifeTown's grant will help underwrite 58 New Albany student visits. Last year, LifeTown provided 5,625 visits to 1,345 children, drawing from schools across the state.
Students visit LifeTown four to six times per year, and each lesson they learn builds on the previous lesson.
I recently had the rewarding experience of touring LifeTown. What I witnessed was both inspiring and uplifting.
The students were having fun but more importantly, they were learning skills that will serve them for life and empower them to participate in activities, such as banking and shopping, that most of us take for granted.
Upon arrival at LifeTown, each child receives $12 in real money. They then follow individual lessons that might focus on safety, time management, budgeting or searching for a job.
LifeTown's simulated village includes shops, a medical office, a bank, a movie theater and a deli.
The children make independent decisions on how to spend their time and money. They might choose to go to a movie, get a manicure or, my favorite, interact with pet-store animals that include a very friendly snake.
If they decide to save their money or perhaps spent a little too much, the library is a great spot to spend time.
They also practice interacting with shopkeepers and other members of the community, including police officers who enforce traffic laws.
For children with disabilities, LifeTown provides a safe, nurturing environment to hone these life-changing skills.
The program relies annually on nearly 1,100 volunteers to serve as shopkeepers, community members and mentors. Watching the dedicated staff members and volunteers work with the children is uplifting.
I would encourage anyone to visit LifeTown or, even better, to volunteer.
Lynne Smith is a member of the New Albany Community Foundation board of trustees and its grant committee. She also is a foundation-fund donor.