Elmwood Park Zoo, the first zoo in the nation to be named a Certified Autism Center, is yet another step closer to achieving its multi-tiered, multi-year, half-million dollar-facility transformation into an all-inclusive, special needs facility; with its most recent accomplishment making things just a little easier for guests with sensory sensitivities or challenges.
With the help of Geiger – the largest family-owned and managed distributor of promotional products in the United States and Crazy Aaron’s – the Norristown based creator of “thinking putty,” Elmwood Park Zoo guests will now have access to complimentary daily-use “Sensory Packs:” autism support bags incorporating noise cancelling headphones, fidget toys, thinking putty and laminated copies of EPZ’s Social Story, sensory map, and sensory guide. The packs are expected to be available for guests by the end of September.
“While we’re very honored to be first zoo in the nation named a Certified Autism Center, we’re working hard to make sure we live up to the designation,” said Albert Zone, executive director and CEO of Elmwood Park Zoo. “With the support of wonderful companies like Crazy Aaron’s and Geiger, and foundations like the Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Council, we’re well on our way.”
Elmwood Park Zoo attained its autism certified center designation earlier this year thanks in part to a grant from the Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Council, which is headed up by MONTCO.Today owner and publisher Stan Huskey, who also serves as the zoo’s government and public affairs officer.
“I was absolutely thrilled to accept the task to create the zoo’s Sensory Packs” said Jennifer Conti, EPZ’s Director of Development. “Approaching my tenth year at the zoo, I have never been as inspired as I am now by this plan for inclusion. The next few years will be full of challenges and changes – but with the stanch support of those who value our role in the community – those challenges will be met with fierce optimism.”
Spearheaded by Laura Houston, Elmwood Park Zoo’s new Director of Education – who brings with her decades of success in creating and running special needs and STEM-based programming, including being part of the team that opened Philadelphia Zoo’s KidsZooU – the launch of EPZ’s Sensory Parks is just step one of many.
“It is very important to all of us that the experience of visiting our Zoo is accessible to everyone,” said Houston. “Our hope is that our new sensory backpacks will help create a resource for parents to help make the Zoo visit easier and more enjoyable. We want everyone to love the Zoo as much as we do.”