A former downtown New Westminster development office is going to be a lot more fun by the end of the summer.
The Friend2Friend Social Learning Society has taken over the space – at 336 Columbia St. – and will soon transform it into a place for kids with autism and other special needs to play with their typically developing peers.
“It will look like a huge play place when you walk in, but it will actually be a very detailed clinical environment,” Friend2Friend founder and executive director Heather McCracken told the Record.
McCracken has run a similar play centre in East Vancouver since 2012, and demand has sparked the need for another facility.
The East Van centre was filled to capacity within a year of opening, she said, and since January, it has had to turn away 80 families.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” McCracken said.
The New Westminster centre will double Friend2Friend’s capacity and cut down driving time for families coming from Surrey, Richmond, the Tricities and New West, she said.
A mother of three, including a son with autism, McCracken founded Friend2Friend in 2002.
The non-profit charity uses small, stable play groups to teach kids with autism and typically developing kids to play better together.
The New West centre will also offer free parent training, support groups, training for professionals and Friend2Friend’s first teen program.
“These programs are essential for any child suffering from peer isolation, rejection or bullying within their school or community setting,” McCracken said. “For children with autism, I am sorry to say the need is great.”
The grand opening for the New West play centre is set for Saturday, Sept 26 from 4 to 6 p.m. Everyone is welcome.
For more information about Friend2Friend, visit www.friend2friendsociety.org.