Fair vendors promote play, awareness, and community support

Oct 22, 2017

When Mary Kate Murphy noticed a trend of overparenting, technology, and diminished recess cutting into kids’ outdoor playtime, she was determined to do something about it.

Murphy is the founder of Spark Playspace, a Somerset-based non-profit with a simple mission: getting kids away from screens and outdoors to play. Murphy brought a bundle of playthings, cardboard, duct tape, and toys to a pop-up playspace set up at the Special Education Parent Advisory Council's Community Resource Far on October 22.

“There seems to be a universal need for kids to play in this capacity,” Murphy said as about a dozen kids made their own cardboard forts and structures out of cardboard.

Murphy said the non-profit’s goal is to establish a permanent playspace facility. Although not quite there yet, Murphy is searching for a suitable location close to home in Somerset.

Murphy was one of about 65 crafters, community organizations, and non-profits presenting at the fair, hosted at Dartmouth High School. The event was intended to both bring awareness of a variety of community resources offered to children, parents, and families, and raise money for SEPAC, which brought in $1,298 in raffle and water sales, and about $35 from each of the 65 vendors.

SEPAC supports students with special needs in the school system, and provides support for parents and students with special education needs.

In the past, funds have been used to purchase buddy benches – places for elementary school students to sit at recess and find a playmate – T-shirts, and to support the district’s unified athletics program, explained SEPAC member Steph Melo.

This year, proceeds are planned to go to the sports programs, which includes a unified basketball program at the high school and a middle and high school bowling team. The teams allow special education students to compete in athletics alongside peers from the general student body. Unified athletics organizer John Breault and his basketball team competed in a game at the craft fair to highlight the program.

“The game was a way for us to showcase what this unique program brings to the school and the community,” Breault said.

A variety of educational, support, and advocacy groups were on hand to provide information. That included Rhonda Matson, director of Music Together. The organization offers music-based educational programming for children in Westport, Dartmouth, New Bedford and Marion.

“Music learning supports all learning, and when families get together and create music together, in enables family bonding,” Matson explained.

Services for kids included everything from dealing with mental health to autism. Ashley Souza highlighted her organization, Behavioral Connections, which works with children on the autism spectrum in education and behavior. Based in Bridgewater, the company opened a new location in New Bedford earlier this year.

“There’s a very high demand in this area,” Souza said, noting the Bridgewater location already has a long waitlist and new families are still pouring into its New Bedford location.

Dartmouth Director of Public Health Chris Michaud was busy giving away drug disposal kits, at a table for the Youth Advocate and Department of Public Health. It’s in preparation for a larger campaign he plans to kick-start in the upcoming months on safe disposal of prescription drugs.