Stepping Stones is celebrating its 50th birthday with a party on May 18, and it could be tough finding someone who is not invited.
The United Way agency was Greater Cincinnati’s first summer day camp for children with disabilities and has grown to a $3.5 million agency serving children and adults with disabilities with recreational and educational programs at program sites in Indian Hill and Batavia.
The party is a reunion picnic at the Indian Hill site for anyone who has ever been touched by the agency. That includes tens of thousands of volunteers, participants, staff, board members and supporters.
“We’re inviting people to come back, re-connect with old friends and see why we’re so proud of our past and so excited about our future,” said Theresa Ciampone, special events coordinator who is planning the reunion.
The free event runs noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at the 23-acre Stepping Stones site, 5650 Given Rd., Indian Hill, 45243. It includes fishing, boating, crafts, a DJ and picnic fare. Guests can enjoy a timeline of photos documenting five decades. A short program is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
Stepping Stones’ alums can RSVP at www.steppingstones50.org
“We need to get a food count,” said Ciampone. “Even if you can’t come, you can post a memory on the site.”
Stepping Stones Executive Director Chris Adams of Terrace Park will join board president John McIlwraith of Indian Hill to welcome guests at the reunion.
“The key to Stepping Stones’ success has always been the people who made the needs of children and adults with disabilities their top priority,” said Adams.
Over 50 years, that passion to serve people with disabilities has had a community-wide effect.
“A lot of teens start out volunteering as something to do over the summer, but this place opens their eyes to a whole new world,” said Sam Browne Allen, director of programs and operations for Stepping Stones.
“They see they can really make a difference. A lot of people have found their vocation here. Stepping Stones volunteers and staff have gone on to become doctors, attorneys, therapists, nurses, school administrators and intervention specialists,” said Allen.
Allen was a Stepping Stones volunteer and staff member who later directed the City of Cincinnati’s Recreation Programs for Special Populations for 11 years before returning to Stepping Stones.
Deb Alexander of Deer Park, a career special education teacher at Warren County and Kings Local school districts, was a Stepping Stones volunteer in 1970.
“It was a great training ground to nurture your skills,” she said. “I was a senior in high school. It was here that I made up my mind to go into special education,” she said.
When she retired from Kings Local, she returned to Stepping Stones and taught for several years in the Stepping Stones’ autism education program.
Stepping Stones started as Greater Cincinnati’s first summer day camp for children with disabilities. Today Stepping Stones programs serve lifelong needs, from age 5 through 65+. Besides the signature summer day camp, Stepping Stones offers overnight camps and respites for children and adults, Saturday clubs for children, teens and young adults, the Step-Up alternative education program for students with autism and year-round Adult Services.
Stepping Stones is a United Way partner agency and a programming partner with the Rotary Club of Cincinnati, which owns Stepping Stones’ second site – Camp Allyn in Batavia. The agency has a tradition of meeting community needs with innovation.
In 1971 Stepping Stones launched Tiny Tots, the region’s first infant stimulation program for infants and toddlers with disabilities. Lois Devine of Kenwood brought her son, Danny, to Tiny Tots.
“That program saved our lives. I don’t know what we would have done without it,” said Devine, who plans to be at the reunion.
In 1974, the program inspired another Cincinnati first when several Tiny Tots mothers launched Cincinnati Mothers of Special Children. “It got its start in the Stepping Stones waiting room,” said Devine.
In recent years Stepping Stones has met the growing autism need with cutting edge programs including Step-Up alternative education in 2004 and the Sensory Needs Respite and Support program that opened this year.
“Our programs change to meet the current needs,” said Allen. This reunion is more than a chance to relive the past, we want to invite people to stay tuned for the future.”