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HELPERS: Newmarket special needs program creates happy place

Locally owned and operated Our Happy Place aims to provide social interaction and life and learning skills for special needs individuals aged 18 to 65

Leaving school can be a big transition for anyone.

But for individuals with special needs, or for families who rely on quality care for their loved ones throughout the day, the change can present serious challenges.

Thankfully, that’s where locally owned and operated business Our Happy Place, a social and recreational enrichment program for individuals with special needs, comes in.

Designed for adults between the ages of 18 and 65, Our Happy Place not only offers a social atmosphere where members can interact with their peers, but provides a fun and entertaining opportunity to gain new life and learning skills and enjoy the fun of arts and crafts, songs and dance, community outings, interactive games, and more.

As an added benefit, the program offers caregivers some respite – and peace of mind – from what can often be a full-time position caring for their loved one.

“There was a gap between these individuals graduating from high school and then not really having any opportunities in the community afterwards,” said Melanie Muirhead.

Alongside co-owner and operator Angie Flamino, Muirhead opened Our Happy Place in October 2022. Both women bring a long history of experience supporting individuals with special needs, with Muirhead having 15 years of experience as a social services worker and Flamino 16 years of experience as a personal support worker.

Through Our Happy Place, both women hope to address the “huge need” for quality care in the area – and bring “something different” to the table, as well.

“More quality care, more community involvement,” said Muirhead, on what sets their business apart. “We have a lunch program that a lot of other programs don’t have – normally everyone just brings their own. We’re providing some different experiences than some other programs we’re familiar with.”

In a typical day, clients can expect to enjoy outdoor activities like gardening and picnics, trips around town like bowling or swimming, and fun, interactive games like bingo, Wheel of Fortune, and brain teasers. They also enjoy animal therapy such as petting zoos, group sports, painting and woodworking, karaoke, and more.

Our Happy Place prioritizes getting involved in the community – volunteering as a group at Newmarket Food Pantry, Mission Thrift Store, and Aurora Community Café.

“We give an opportunity for these individuals to have social and recreational opportunities that they maybe wouldn’t otherwise have in the community, due to a lack of services and supports that are out there,” said Muirhead. “Some can’t necessarily obtain jobs the way you and I would, so it gives them an opportunity to be social and make connections with each other.”

Our Happy Place runs Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Full and part-time spaces are available, and transportation can be arranged for any members who need assistance to and from the program.

To provide support for the families and caregivers of clients, Our Happy Place also offers services such as advocacy, resource and funding navigation, and workshops.

“A lot of these families are taking care of their adult children, and a lot of them are aging as well,” said Muirhead. “It gives them a break while knowing their child is in a safe place, gaining some skills, and having an opportunity to be social with their peers.”