Pop-up event

A painting created during one of TECparks pop-up events over the summer.

Inclusive respite care for families of children with disabilities, which involve their typical developing siblings, is sorely lacking in this area. A new local business is seeking to change that.

TECpark started its journey to opening in 2018 by two parents, Alana and Steven Bennett, after their youngest son was diagnosed with autism in 2016. 

Following the diagnosis, the Bennetts quickly noticed resources for children with disabilities in Alamance and the surrounding counties were hard to come by and there was very little to do which would involve both her children.

“We found, in this area, there was nothing really inclusive and fun to do,” co-founder and CEO of TECpark Alana Bennett said. “We have an older child, and he's what they call typical developing, so it was difficult to find a place that would accommodate both children.”

Bennett said she is a fixer, so when she and Steven recognized the problem, they devised a way to fix it. “I wanted to fix the issue in the area, that's the best way to start a business, helping to fill the need. So, we went on this journey,” she said. 

Their mission in starting TECpark was to specialize in providing a wide array services for children and adults with disabilities, their siblings and their parents. TECpark provides fills many needs, but respite care – providing short term relief for primary care givers – is their specialty.

“Most of the businesses around here don't have accommodations for individuals with special needs, so we'll fill that void in the community as a place to be able to drop your child or loved one off, no matter their ability,” Bennett said.

A big focus of TECpark is on inclusivity. In this instance, inclusivity relates to providing a place for not only individuals with disabilities but for their typical developing siblings and primary caregivers as well. Bennett maintains it benefits all individuals involved.

“Just from my personal experience, being a caregiver to our youngest son, he learns better when he's in an inclusive environment because he learns from his typical developing peers,” Bennett said. “For my oldest son, it has taught him more compassion, to understand people are different, everybody's not going to be the same, everybody doesn't view life the same way, but they shouldn't be excluded and put in a corner.”

Deb Grener, lead program facilitator for TECpark, echoed this sentiment. “It's good in both ways, because the non-typical will learn social skills and are going to watch behavior,” she said. “For the other kids, it's good to learn that acceptance.”

In January 2022, TECpark will open a new facility at 2241 Handford Road, Suite 107, in Burlington. Once that location is open, the plan is to provide services for children and adults of all abilities, ages three and up. Those services will include, but are not limited to, respite care on evenings and weekends, day programs, public and private events, pop-up camps and parent/caregiver support.

But, for the past few months, TECpark has been mobile, hosting pop-up events, often at local parks and community centers.

“Going to the parks [for pop-up events] has really been a good way to get our name out,” Grener said. “We've been in Orange County, we did two at Gold Park, we’ve done two over at Graham Regional Park and we were at Northeast Park in Guilford County.”

And, on November 12 and 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., TECpark will host an event in Mebane – Movie and Pizza Night at the Historic Woodlawn School. Registration, which costs $25 per child, is required no later than three days in advance, and can be done online at www.yourtecpark.com.

 The movies shown each time will be G-rated. Masking and other Covid-19 protocols will be followed, but TECpark does understand some children can’t wear masks and will be accommodating to that. Bennett touched on the purpose of events, like this one.

“It's a form of respite care, because the parents can drop their child off and go have a date, go cook or whatever they want to do,” Bennett said. “We'll have games, painting, a fun movie and pizza, and maybe some popcorn. Just, again, to give the parents, the caregivers a break and to get the kids out.”

Over the summer, TECpark hosted a pet therapy event – during which Pet Partners brough eight therapy dogs and one therapy bird out for the children in attendance to interact with. They plan to continue to do things like this and the movie night when possible.

A major focus of TECpark’s is to ensure every individual who attends one of their pop-up events is engaged, even if everyone’s focus is not on the main draw.

“Maybe a child is not interested in the event, but we may have Legos and they can go play with Legos just being in the environment and seeing things,” Bennett said. “Our regular pop-ups, we would come out and we would have anything from Connect Four to Giant Jenga just to get the kids involved and off electronics.”

Being a young business, especially coming out of the pandemic – which threw a wrench in their plans – TECpark is seeking volunteers, who are called buddies, to come and help during events.

“I know we're going against sports and other school events, so we are flexible,” Bennett said. “If you can only volunteer once or every other month, we want to get you involved.”

TECpark is open to volunteers all of abilities over the age of 14. Both Bennett and Grener remarked that buddies play a big role in the lives of the children who come through TECpark. Folks can find out more, and sign up, on the TECpark website as well (link above).

Bennett noted that TECpark will be a place for children and young adults to have fun and relax, but it will also be a place that betters them, that teaches them invaluable communication, life and social skills they can use out in the world.