This fall Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country (ASPNC) welcomed Matt Jeralds as its new Recreational Therapist. Recreational Therapy is a practice that develops specific activity-based programs for individuals with injuries or disabilities. These programs aim to improve physiological and physical health and create overall well-being. For ASPNC the new position opens additional possibilities to provide services and recreation opportunities to individuals with disabilities throughout the North Country.
Jeralds hails from Pittsburg, New Hampshire’s northernmost town, and attended the University of New Hampshire. In 2015 he graduated with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation. Jeralds has volunteered and worked in many recreational fields including Northeast Passage (NEP) in Durham. While there he implemented an in-home therapeutic recreation program for veterans. Now his position with ASPNC means he can continue his career in New Hampshire.
“I love New Hampshire – whether it’s coming up to Pittsburgh to disconnect or going down to the Seacoast to see all the history there,” he affirms. But for Jeralds the best part of his new job is working in the state’s mountains. “I think how lucky I am to be able to say that’s my office,” he muses. “I get to work outside doing things I enjoy, and I get to help other people do things they enjoy that they might not have had the opportunity to do so before.”
Working with ASPNC
In his role with ASPNC Jeralds will bring a formal Therapeutic Recreation program to the organization. “We’ll work with people with disabilities on an individual basis, one-on-one to develop programs specific to their needs,” he states. His position marks the only Recreational Therapist in New Hampshire’s North Country. The process to develop the program with ASPNC consists of two components: school-based activity and home/community-based activity.
First, Jeralds will work with local schools and special education departments. Together they will build a Recreational Therapy program for children with both physical and cognitive disabilities. “We’ll work on building and achieving goals, and a lot of it will be working on the social aspects,” explains Jeralds. He emphasizes the importance of social interactivity beyond the physical activity. “[These students] may not have had the opportunity to play sports when they were younger and develop those social skills.”
Jeralds recently helped to implement a school program called “You Do, I Do, Let’s Do.” The program looks to pair people together based on a mutual interest in specific activities. “It looks at the similarities that people have and working that as a baseline,” he says. “You like to do that activity, I like to do that activity, let’s go do that together, regardless of disability.”
The second tier of the program involves a community/home-based program. Here the program will focus on veterans and people transitioning out of school. Jeralds looks at the 16-21 year old age group as a particular area of need. “A lot people in that age range don’t know what they’re going to do after school,” he says. “Our biggest commitment is community integration.”
Jeralds cites the struggles with isolation many people with disabilities often face. “Whether it’s a physical disability or a cognitive disability they end up being isolated. Often they don’t know how to get out in the community and how to participate,” he details. “We want to work with them to increase their independence and to interact with others.”
As the program grows Jeralds looks to work with other schools and community-based organizations. In addition to supporting people with disabilities, Jeralds plans awareness programs with schools and other groups. “We’ll go into schools and give a presentation about adaptive equipment and give the kids an opportunity to sit down and try the equipment,” he says. The students will have the opportunity to play soccer in power wheelchairs and relay race in sports wheelchairs. “And that,” says Jeralds, “will help show the kids that even though you may have a disability, you can still have a lot of fun.”