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Buddy Break gives fun times for children with special needs

Max Slowiek, age 3, from Elburn, gets his face painted by 13-year-old volunteer Megan Clark, from Batavia, during the Buddy Break monthly event at First Baptist Church of Geneva.
Max Slowiek, age 3, from Elburn, gets his face painted by 13-year-old volunteer Megan Clark, from Batavia, during the Buddy Break monthly event at First Baptist Church of Geneva.

GENEVA – One-year-old Kei'ana Bateman of Kaneville cupped rice in her tiny hand and scooped it into a cup.

Nearby, Luke Abbs of Batavia also ran his hands through the rice, while their one-on-one buddies stayed with them.

In the next rooms, children played with cars and trucks, Legos, Play-Doh, basketball and saw a magician perform, among other activities.

Luke and Kei'ana, both children with special needs, were among the 19 children and six siblings who participated in Buddy Break Saturday, a free three-hour activity day at Geneva Baptist Church.

Andrea Koster and Michelle Demaray both of Geneva, Jaimie Valentini of Elburn and Michelle Frediani of Batavia are the Buddy Break program coordinators.

Koster said the event is intended to give children with special needs and their siblings an afternoon of fun – and to give their parents a break.

"They loved it," Koster said of both parents and kids who participated in their first event last month. "I had one mom tell me today when she dropped her son off that she had Buddy Break on the calendar and every day her son would ask, 'Is it today? Is it today?' She said this has been the highlight of the year so far for him. And she gets a break, too."

The various activities were set up in the Sunday school classrooms at the church, giving enough space for each one, yet with ready access for all the children.

Tommy Brooks, 7 of Batavia, preferred the quiet room, rocking in the rocking chair, looking at books and being with his one-on-one Buddy volunteer, Nicole Lopez of Geneva, Koster's daughter.

"I am going to school for occupational therapy and I want to work with kids with special needs once I graduate," Lopez said. "I figured this is a great opportunity for me to get experience with kids before I start working."

In the cars, trains and truck room, Claire Rodriguez, 3, of Wheaton, had all the vehicles to herself.

The tiny girl clutched a balloon in one hand and a doll in the other while sending small cars and trucks zooming down a curved slide.

Every time a vehicle made it down the slide, her Buddy volunteers Kristie Brewer,  Beth Jasso and her daughter, Isabel, 15, all of St. Charles, cheered.

The program was a suggestion of a mom with a child who has special needs. Nathaniel's Hope Buddy Break is a national program, Koster said.

This is the second session and Koster said the church's goal is to host it once a month all year.

"As long as we have enough volunteers who want to help with us," Koster said. "We have a few more kids this time and we already know that our next one that is going to be May 3, we will have even more than this."

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