WILKES-BARRE — Rachel Callahan eyes the basket, tosses the ball and grins, pumping her arms triumphantly as it swishes through the net. Success!
“Sometimes I miss,” said Callahan, 43, of Pittston. “Sometimes it goes in.”
What would Callahan be doing if she wasn’t playing basketball at the Jewish Community Center, close to noon on a weekday morning?
“I’d be in my personal care home,” she said, speaking slowly and distinctly. “Sleeping.”
Thanks to newly created Deutsch Institute Recreation Program, which is funded by the Luzerne/Wyoming Counties Mental Health and Developmental Services Program, Callahan and more than 40 other people with developmental challenges are taking part this summer in numerous activities at the Jewish Community Center in Wilkes-Barre, the JCC camp at Harveys Lake and the Downtown Arts building in Wilkes-Barre.
“I love swimming,” Patricia Ann Holmberg, 62, of White Haven, said. “They put two yellow things (flotation devices) on me and I jump up and down in the water.”
When United Rehabilitation Services (URS) Inc. closed its operations in Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and Tunkhannock in June, Holmberg and her husband of 27 years, Kenny, were among some 300 clients who no longer had the option of attending vocational programs at those facilities.
“People were wondering where they could go, and this helps fill the gap,” said Director Gina Malsky, who designed the program in collaboration with Karen Belli from the Deutsch Institute and Rick Evans from the JCC.
“We have bowling, music, art, gym, bingo, yoga, singing, crossword puzzles, drama and dance,” Malsky said, listing some of the activities available to about 45 clients, who range in age from their 20s to about 65.
At one point on a recent morning, one group dribbled and shot basketballs, another one decorated Chinese-style paper masks and a third group sat around a table for quieter activities.
While her companions colored pictures, 32-year-old Colleen Blackwell used a pencil to carefully circle words in a puzzle, finding “gather” and “cure” and “mobile” and “rosin,” even if they were written upside-down or backward.
What would she be doing if she weren’t at the JCC?
“I’d be sitting at home,” she said. “Doing nothing.”
The recreation program began July 1 and is scheduled to run through Aug. 15.
“In the beginning, a lot of them were really quiet,” said program aide Alex Dougherty, 19, a West Pittston resident and Bloomsburg University student. “Now they’re becoming more sociable. They love bingo and some of the girls like to be the caller.”
In another room, meanwhile, Jessica Liu of Kingston, who teaches at Wyoming Seminary during the school year, was sharing a bit of her Chinese culture with another group of clients, helping them make wearable masks.
Proudly showing off a face he had colored orange, Kenny Holmberg explained, “It’s a dragon.”
Later, clients took part in a writing exercise.
Printing neatly on blank sheet of paper, Stacie Peregrin of Sugarloaf Township decided to send a thank-you note to Malsky. “Dear Gina,” she printed. “Thank you for having us here. It has been an adventure for me … I’m glad you and your staff encourage me to try new things.”