88th Polaris is a unique parent-run scouting group for youth with neurological issues, such as autism, Tourette’s syndrome, attention deficit, fetal alcohol syndrome and various other neurological and developmental disorders. We’ve been in operation since 2009.
Scouts Canada is an inclusive organization and welcomes all youth to participate in any of its groups. However, some youth are unable to integrate well in “general” scouting groups - they may find activities overwhelming or have trouble relating with their peers. 88th Polaris aims to provide a safe and accepting environment for such youth who are still interested in pursuing adventure and enjoying the Canadian outdoors.
Scouts Canada’s mission is To help develop well-rounded youth, better prepared for success in the world. We work to achieve that mission through youth-led activities that encourage learning by doing with a heavy focus on nature and the outdoors as well as STEM activities (science, technology, engineering and math. The result is opportunities for youth to grow in all areas of the SPICES - Social, Physical, Intellectual, Character, Emotional and Spiritual.
88th Polaris follows this same philosophy, but adapts it to youth that require greater supports. We run a cross-section program, meaning that youth (male and female) from Beaver Scout age (5-7) through to Rover Scout age (18+) work together as one integrated program. We also welcome siblings who have not been diagnosed with any neurological issues. The scouts have a chance to lead each other and teach each other, sharing their own skills and passions in a supportive environment.
The participants choose what adventures they want to pursue, whether it’s riding horses, archery, outdoor treasure hunts, building with lego or painting pictures at a local park. We then take whatever steps are needed to help them have that adventure, providing leadership and teaching opportunities to youth who might not otherwise have that chance. Interested youth can also work towards earning badges related to activities of interest.
While 88th Polaris scouts aims to provide a chance to learn and grow, it is not a therapy program. Our primary focus is ensuring the kids have fun and are enjoying what they’re doing. The social and learning benefits are just bonuses that come on top of that.
Our 88th Polaris program usually runs from mid-Sept. to the end of May. Meetings are typically at the Maier Centre for Autism (17451 103 Ave NW, Edmonton) on Saturdays from 10-11:30. However, meeting times and locations can change if we’re doing an outdoor activity, so if you want to visit to check the program out, please contact us in advance. We also run two camps each year, one usually falls on the February long weekend and the other happens sometime during the summer.
Registration costs for 2019/20 are $265/year, of which our group receives $35. Early registration prior to June 30 provides a small discount. A greater discount for partial-year registrations comes into effect on January 1. Camp fees are usually $10-25. Youth are encouraged to wear a uniform (purchasable from the Scout Shop), though this is flexible if youth have sensory or other issues.
Participation in fundraising activities such as Scouts Popcorn is also required - our group is self-funded and relies on fundraising and donations to cover facilities rental and to deliver the program.
For families where finances would prove a barrier to participation, Scouts offers a program called No One Left Behind to subsidize the registration fee. The group will assist with other expenses such as camp fees as well as our financial situation permits.
Note that 88th Polaris is not a respite program - a parent, guardian or aide is expected to be available at all meetings and events to provide support if necessary. The degree of proximity of the support can vary based on the needs of the youth, ranging from direct involvement in the program, watching from the sidelines or waiting in the nearby lounge.
Because they need to be there anyhow, 88th Polaris encourages parents and guardians to consider registering and completing the necessary training to be “Scouters” themselves, so that they can join the team of parents helping to run the program - and having fun doing it! No prior experience or expertise is required.
Registration can be performed on the myscouts.ca website. Just select ‘Saturday’ and fill in the Maier Centre postal code (T5S 1J4). Youth can attend two meetings for free prior to registration to get a sense of whether the program is a good fit.
If you know of a youth who might benefit from the program or are potentially interested in volunteering or providing other support for the program, please contact the group commissioner - Lloyd McKenzie at [email protected].
Donations to 88th Polaris in amounts greater than $20 are tax deductible if an address is provided where we can mail the receipt. Cheques can be made out to “Scouts Canada - 88th Polaris”.