Aaron's Acres participant Julia watches musician Phredd perform online. (Source: Aaron's Acres)
Aaron's Acres participant Julia watches musician Phredd perform online. (Source: Aaron's Acres)

Risa Paskoff, executive director, Aaron's Acres, spends a moment with Isiah at the program's 2019 summer camp. (Source: Aaron's Acres)

"As soon as everything started to close down ... we were thinking about our kids," Risa Paskoff of Aaron's Acres said.

Paskoff is executive director of the nonprofit, which provides therapeutically based recreational programs to youngsters aged 5 to 21 who have disabilities, supporting them and their families.

Staff realized that Pennsylvania's coronavirus lockdown was going to be an enormous challenge for Aaron's Acres families, Paskoff said.

The children served by Aaron's Acres require extra supervision and care. Many need the comfort of an established routine, and become agitated if it's disrupted.

Now, instead of spending weekdays at school or a day care, they were at home. New things were happening at new times. In many cases, parents had competing demands on their attention: Other homebound children, jobs.

'My daughter loved these videos!'

To give the children something to enjoy, and parents a break, Aaron's Acres developed a series of online videos, commissioned from some of the popular entertainers and activity leaders at Aaron's Acres camps and programs.

The idea was to bring online the same Aaron's Acres programs the children knew and loved in person. To promote a sense of continuity, the performers all wore the signature yellow Aaron's Acres T-shirt, "a great nonverbal reinforcement," Paskoff said.

To support the initiative, Aaron's Acres applied for and secured a Lancaster Cares grant. That enabled it to compensate the performers fairly for their time and effort, Paskoff said.

"We wanted to make sure we took care of them," she said. Between schools shutting down and other Covid-19 closures, she said, "for some of them, this was the only revenue they had."

The videos were a big hit, Paskoff said. Among them: Jesse Rothacker of Forgotten Friends Reptile Sanctuary read children's books with a snake draped around his neck. Music therapist Cindy "Miss Cindy" Long led sing-along songs about summer. Instructors from Fitness 4 Focus, a fitness program for individuals with special needs, conducted exercise classes.

"Please keep them coming," one parent wrote. Another said: "Thank you for taking the time to think outside the box. ... My daughter loved these videos!"

Aaron's Acres developed some programming for parents, too, posting yoga classes by Michelle Newman of Hartz Physical Therapy.

Due to the ongoing health concerns related to Covid-19, the nonprofit has remained online this summer, offering eight weeks of virtual camp via Zoom, in four two-week sessions.

Paskoff said Aaron's Acres felt fortunate to have the support of the Lancaster Cares grant: "It helped us as we are helping families. ... It really answered a need."

How you can help

Please consider a donation to Lancaster Cares, a Covid-19 emergency fund set up by Lancaster County Community Foundation and the Lancaster County United Way.

Tim Stuhldreher