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Project helps children with communication disorders

By Kathryn Cargo
July 2, 2016 at midnight
Updated July 2, 2016 at 11:06 p.m.

Shayla Rudd, 12, smells peppermint soap as Meredith Potts, clinic director of Branch of Hope Children's Therapy Center, helps her package the handmade soap for Project 29:11. The project gives the students from The Vine School and clients of Branch of Hope Children's Therapy Center the chance to go out into the community and work on social, language and motor skills. The children sell soap made from goat's milk to gift shops and other outlets throughout the community.

Shayla Rudd, 12, smells peppermint soap as Meredith Potts, clinic director of Branch of Hope Children's Therapy Center, helps her package the handmade soap for Project 29:11. The project gives the students from The Vine School and clients of Branch of Hope Children's Therapy Center the chance to go out into the community and work on social, language and motor skills. The children sell soap made from goat's milk to gift shops and other outlets throughout the community.   Ana Ramirez for The Victoria Advocate

Orion Phillips, 7, stood in front of a bowl of soap mix, clasped the large spoon in the bowl and smiled while he stirred.

Stirring the soap mix is Orion's favorite activity in Project 29:11. This simple task is part of a large project that is preparing him for the real world at a young age.

Project 29:11 is a social enterprise project for students at the Vine School and clients of the Branch of Hope Children's Therapy Center. These children have autism spectrum disorder and related communication disorders. They have trouble communicating and understanding their environments, said Meredith Potts, center speech-language pathologist.

The project title stands for the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11, which is about the plans God has. This correlates with the opportunities the project provides the children, she said.

The project started last September. The children make goat soap from a soap base. The children cut the soap base into the pieces, heat it up, pour it into molds. After it dries, they package it and sell it to members in the community.

This project involves tasks that strengthen the children's motor skills, social skills and task completion.

Many of the children don't have good grip strength, so a task like stirring can be difficult, said Stephanie Hessler, center registered occupational therapist.

"This really helps them to develop those higher-level fine motor skills and visual motor control, the eyes watching what the hands are doing," Hessler said. "You also have the motor planning component, like being able to sequence a task from start to finish."

When the children are out in the community, it gives them the opportunity to learn in a real-life setting instead of only in the classroom, Potts said. This also lets the staff of the center and school know what they need to work on with the children. For example, Orion needs to improve on answering questions and maintaining conversations, she said.

"Especially when a lot of noise is happening around, he is going to respond very differently than if it was just one on one in a quiet room," she said. "With the Project 29:11, the goal is for him to be in those more realistic settings."

It's important to get the children started in real-life situations at an early age so as adults, they will be able to go out and work, make money and be a part of society, said Erin Hatley, The Vine School executive director. In the past, when students who the center and school worked with would graduate, they wouldn't have anything to do afterward, she said.

"They just stay at home, and the parents really find a large association with depression, boredom and not being able to access any kind of program outside of their home and immediate community," she said.

The project has taken the children out to several locations in town to market and sell their products, including the Father's Night Out Car Show, a Victoria Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Victoria College and Methodist Day School.

The children visit a new business almost every month to interact with staff members, Potts said.

Orion said he likes meeting new people when he goes out to sell the soap.

"I like to meet the family and friends," he said.

The soap sells for $5 a bar. The scents are lavender, peppermint and lemon.

Soap displays are at Vela Farms on the Square and Old Victoria Outfitter. Around the holidays in December, the project had a lot of business, Potts said. They are considering making ornaments as their next product for Christmas.

Each child has a part in the project depending on what they enjoy and their skills, Hatley said. Some are very involved in the soap-making process, while others are involved in the marketing and selling process.

"We have tasks for every skill level, and everyone has a part," she said.

The students are prideful in their work and have every reason to be, Hessler said.

"I love making the soap," Orion said excitedly.


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