School for children with multiple disabilities gets new home from the Digicel Foundation The STEP Centre staff, students, and supporters, came out in their numbers on Tuesday March 27 to witness the symbolic ground breaking for the construction of a new school for the STEP Centre. The new building is being funded by the Digicel Foundation to the tune of J$28 million. STEP, (School for Therapy, Education and Parenting of Children with Multiple Disabilities), was established in 1994 and caters to children with complex learning and developmental challenges, including cerebral palsy, global developmental delay and various genetic syndromes. It is the only facility in Jamaica that offers physical, occupational, art, speech and language therapy as part of its daily curriculum. “Digicel Foundation is going to be a game changer on how people see special needs children,” remarked Peta-Rose Hall, Chairperson of STEP. “So few Foundations would be doing what you are doing now, thanks for leading the way,” she added. The Centre currently caters to 22 special needs children daily. With the construction of the new building, STEP will be able to increase enrolment to 32. Commenting at the ground breaking ceremony, Hilary Sherlock, the Centre’s Principal, said the new building will include spaces which enhance therapy and learning, including a specially designed playground, sensory garden and sensory room. She noted, “We believe that our children deserve a facility which reflects their dignity of life and that is functional. “We need to put special needs children at centre stage and not on the periphery, and praise must be given to the Digicel Foundation for driving this,” remarked Minister of Education, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites. Samantha Chantrelle, Executive Director, Digicel Foundation, in her opening remarks had high praises for the STEP Centre, noting that it had been “a bastion of support” for the special needs community, providing not just education and support, but love for these very special children. She highlighted that Special Needs as an area of focus is important, not only to the Digicel Foundation, but to the entire Digicel family sharing that: “Every year, Digicel sponsors the Special Olympics teams from Jamaica, and every Caribbean country in which Digicel operates. It is a programme that is very important to us to support because these children show us how challenges and adversities can be overcome with willpower and dedication.” Mrs. Chantrelle also used the opportunity to encourage participants to come out and join the Jamaica Autism Support Association, JASA, at Emancipation Park as they kick start World Autism Awareness Month, which is celebrated in April, on April 1st at 4pm. For the past 17 years, the STEP Centre has been operating out of St. Margaret’s Church Hall in Liguanea. STEP officials have been actively seeking funding to construct a building more suited to the needs of the Centre. STEP is currently in discussions with the Ministry of Education to develop a curriculum for children with severe disabilities. STEP is also collaborating with the Jamaican Association on Intellectual Abilities, JAID, to provide specialized training to others in the field who work with special needs children. In addition, STEP coordinates an active outreach programme that provides training for care staff, parents and associated professionals, as well as direct intervention. They also serves as a training resource for practicum students from local universities.