Montague sunflower maze fundraiser to support kids with communication difficulties

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 08-10-2023 3:07 PM

MONTAGUE — Working alongside Montague’s elementary schools and the Parks and Recreation Department, Our Family Legacy Farm co-owner Natalie Spatcher is working to ensure every child can express themselves at the playground, even when they can’t do so in words.

Spatcher will put 100% of Saturday’s sunflower maze proceeds toward purchasing personalized “communication station banners” to be installed at Hillcrest and Sheffield elementary schools, as well as some town parks. The banners, which feature a catalog of signals and visual aids representing different emotions, commands and ideas, are intended to assist children who have communication difficulties. The banners are similar to a template often employed on devices by speech therapists, of which there is a shortage in the area, according to Spatcher.

Spatcher, whose son is in his first year at Hillcrest Elementary School, said her inspiration for taking initiative came firsthand.

“As a parent of a child who has a speech delay, I found it hard to bring his communication device while bringing both he and his younger sister to the park,” she explained in an email. “I felt guilty for leaving it in the car and wished I had access to a low-tech communication board. With these accessible banners, it will create a bridge to overcome many communication barriers.”

Dianne Ellis, director of pupil services for the Gill-Montague Regional School District, made it clear that Spatcher’s family is not alone, citing a considerable amount of students “who are showing delays in their verbal communication skills.” In fact, Spatcher’s initiative was fortuitous timing, she said.

“It’s interesting that the family’s moving forward with this banner … because the school district was also moving forward with a parallel plan,” Ellis said, noting the district just ordered similar signs that will complement what Spatcher donates. “We are always looking for ways to promote community for students who may not be verbal communicators, but may be more pictorial or assisted technology communicators.”

Spatcher noted the banners will also help teach kids who are verbal how to communicate and play with children who have speech limitations.

The design process for the banners will begin after Saturday, Spatcher said. She hopes to fabricate four banners to position at the elementary school playgrounds, as well as other park areas around town. Parks and Recreation Director Jon Dobosz said there are currently plans to install a banner at Unity Park, but that his department and Spatcher “can certainly explore the opportunity to place them at other parks.”

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“It seems to continue to break down barriers and provide opportunities … and I just think it would serve as a great tool for children who have any type of speech delay or nonverbal communication needs or limitations,” Dobosz said.

The farm’s sunflower maze, which embraces an “Alice in Wonderland” theme, will be open on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with all proceeds benefiting the banners and all excess funds benefiting further speech therapy supplies for children. The maze will be open on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. as well, despite not serving as a fundraiser. Admission costs $10 for adults, $5 for children and is free for those under 5 years old.

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Additionally, the Community Action Family Center in Greenfield will host a free workshop on Tuesday, Aug. 22, from 10 to 11 a.m. for families and caregivers facing communication barriers. The workshop will involve creating “personalized communications routine icons” to take home, Spatcher noted.

Registration is not required. For more information, call 413-475-1555.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

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