Heidi Terselic couldn’t help but notice that when her son, Augie, who has Down syndrome, played with friends of all abilities, his mood and energy soared. He became more animated and joyful, whether they were splashing in the pool, running at the playground, or jumping on a trampoline.
Knowing these interactions benefited Augie socially and physically, Terselic imagined how wonderful it would be to have a place where she could invite parents and their children, with disabilities and without, to gather, play and socialize.
“I envisioned a true picture of inclusion,” she says.
In 2021, as fate would have it, Terselic and her husband, Mike, happened upon a remarkable 19-acre property in Loveland that offered a variety of amenities, including a pickleball court, pool, trampoline, basketball court, campfire pit, and wooded trails. The land provided ample privacy and space for outdoor activities like tag, baseball, football — you name it.
“When I saw this property, it was a mirror image of what I’d been picturing in my mind,” says Terselic. The wheels started turning once she realized the dream could become a reality. Next thing you know, the family founded Augie’s Adventures, a nonprofit that welcomes and accommodates families with minor and grown children living with cognitive and physical disabilities. Here, they can build community, have fun and enjoy respite and relaxation.
Pam Fitzpatrick, who is raising her special-needs grandson, Braiden, describes Augie’s Adventures as “a little slice of heaven.”
“It offers hospitality and friendship built around a genuine understanding of what a hectic life it is to have our kiddos belong and help them be comfortable in their own skin,” says Fitzpatrick. “Augie’s Adventures has begun to give my grandson the trust and ease to explore other areas he desperately needs to address before adulthood.”
Throughout the school year, Terselic hosts monthly parent support groups where guest speakers educate parents about assorted topics, including financial planning, legal guidelines, occupational therapy, behavior management, parental self-care and burnout prevention. The meetings are held at St. Columban Church in Loveland. Free childcare is provided. Because inclusion is at the forefront of Augie’s Adventures, it is prioritized whenever possible. Case in point, entire families are recruited to volunteer their time with the special-needs children, while their parents attend the meetings next door. This arrangement creates a naturally inclusive environment, providing practice for acceptance and understanding, while the typical and special-needs participants interact through play.
In the same way, local, typical teenagers are also asked to volunteer during recreational events on the Terselics’ property. The teenagers bring fresh enthusiasm to grown and minor children alike, as their company is an exciting alternative to many of the daily routines limited to parents, teachers, aides and therapists.
Terselic has lined up several amazing speakers beginning in October, including Charles and Lara Ferrer, parents to 14-year-old Charlie, who has autism. They’ll speak about their journey, from early signs through screening, and finally to diagnosis, as well as managing day-to-day progress and setbacks. Wray Jean Connor, Ohio’s 2022 Adapted P.E. Teacher of the Year, will speak about how to keep special-needs children physically active and healthy at home. Ida McGuire, a mother who had two teenage sons involved in separate car accidents, will speak on trauma, grief and loss, acceptance and faith, and finding joy in lifetime caregiving for one of those sons.
Terselic is currently communicating with an employee from the Social Security Administration to ask about discussing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) with respect to special-needs children. Additionally, she’s searching for a nutritionist to speak about expanding a child’s palette and improving feeding skills and table manners.
“Parents are hungry for information about how to advocate for their children’s rights, write their children’s Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), plan for their children’s financial security, manage their children’s behaviors and balance family priorities,” Terselic says.
Although watching special-needs children play together is enjoyable, she notes, nothing beats seeing them interact with typical peers in an inclusive environment.
“Typical peers serve as models in so many aspects — speech and socialization, appropriate behavior, manners and etiquette, turn-taking and game rules. The list goes on!” says Terselic. “This is why we want our environment to exemplify the beauty of inclusion.”
Lara Ferrer and her son regularly visits Augie’s Adventures.
“Since our son was a young boy, he’s only been invited two times to friends’ birthday parties,” says Ferrer. “He has wonderful ambassador friends at school, but he participates in mostly family outings outside of school. When Charlie gets invited to an event at Augie’s Adventures, he smiles with delight!”
Augie’s Adventures has given 13-year-old Becca Wiehe an opportunity to meet and play with children her age.
“Becca has Down syndrome and doesn’t have friends outside of the school atmosphere, so Augie’s Adventures has been a great social avenue for her,” says her mom, Karen. “We do have other Down syndrome support groups in the Cincinnati area. However, I like that Augie’s Adventures is more of a party atmosphere than a program.”
Terselic hopes to spread the word about Augie’s Adventures to help more special-needs families find this supportive community of parents with whom they can share their experiences and challenges.
“We’re open to discussing what’s frustrating, tedious and exhausting. At the same time, we find the joy in this life, celebrate the smallest of victories, and have a sense of humor to get through it all,” says Terselic. “We’re a place where special-needs families can be real without apologizing for it.”
Want to donate your time or money to Augie’s Adventures? Visit augiesadventures1242.org for more information. In addition, if you’re interested in serving as a guest speaker or have an idea for a topic, contact Terselic at 630-254-8959.