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Style: Folsom | El Dorado Hills

Folsom Runway: Paving the Path to Inclusion

Oct 30, 2017 11:46AM ● By Ray Burgess

Folsom’s Parks and Recreation Department has a commendable record of providing activities for youngsters with disabilities and special needs. Through grants and donations, some parks feature play equipment for disabled kids, for example, and the Aquatic Center offers free swim classes for autistic children. As welcome as these programs are, Folsom resident Nelia Nunes, the mother of a disabled 10-year-old daughter, is advocating for more. She recently formed the organization Folsom Runway to help meet what she sees as a greater need—full inclusivity.

Integrating special needs children into classes and activities with non-disabled children their own ages has been widely shown to benefit both groups. The special needs youngsters—more than 1,200 are enrolled in Folsom schools—gain socially and academically, and the non-disabled children develop better social skills and learn to understand and appreciate diversity. Inclusion programs that start in childhood seem to achieve the best long-term results. “Everyone has differences,” Nunes says. “I want my daughter to be a positively accepted member of our community. It’s what we want for any of our kids.”


Already impressed with the city’s variety of programs, Nunes reached out to the Folsom Parks and Recreation Department and was put in touch with Aquatic Center Supervisor Chad Gunter. Gunter has two sons on the autistic spectrum and was eager to support Nunes’ mission. Fast forward, and on November 5, Folsom Runway, with support from Folsom Parks and Recreation and the Folsom Athletic Association, is presenting  Runway 17, a fashion show to raise money and awareness for bringing kids with disabilities more fully into Folsom activities. Clothes from Kohl’s and the women’s boutique Velvet Hanger will be modeled by Folsom youngsters and local personalities, including City Council Members Roger Gaylord and Ernie Sheldon, Folsom Cordova Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Sarah Koligan, state Special Education Director Kristin Wright, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley and Folsom Police Chief Cynthia Renaud. What’s more, Velvet Hanger will set up a boutique and donate 20 percent of its proceeds to the organization.

Folsom Runway—emceed by co-host  of Studio40 on FOX40 Lori Wallace—will take place from 2-5 p.m. at the Folsom Community Center and include a silent auction and raffle, hors d’oeuvres, a no-host bar and guest speakers. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased through the group’s Facebook page. 

“The city already tries to be inclusive,” Gunter says, “but we want to increase that.” The money donated at this year’s show—the first of what Nunes hopes will become an annual event—will leaders to help special needs kids safely take part in the activities their non-disabled friends enjoy. These leaders will be trained to handle a variety of needs, including issues with speech, lights, heights, sounds, motion and even wind, Gunter says. They will learn to calm a child when necessary and to ensure each child engages as fully as possible. One of Gunter’s goals is to integrate special needs kids into regular swim classes. “Our greatest concern is always the children’s happiness and safety,” he says. “That’s what we’re here to do.”

by Linda Holderness  //   photos by DANTE FONTANA

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