In the early 1980s, a group of parents on the Darien Council for Special Education approached special education teacher Brian McArdle about starting a weekly social and recreational program for children with disabilities.

At that time, there were limited programs for children with special needs, according to McArdle, of Trumbull.

Today, the program — called FunBusters — is still going strong.  It has evolved over the decades and is now a program for adults. It’s run through the Darien YMCA and holds many of its meetups at the Depot, at 25 Heights Road.

FunBusters is looking to bring an awareness of its programs to parents with special needs young adults, specifically focusing on its Saturday morning program. This program serves those with multiple disabilities and provides parents with an opportunity for respite care. It offers arts and crafts, interactive game boards, and access to computers, movies, video games, foosball, ping pong, and a pool table.

Other FunBusters programs include a Monday evening group, which takes monthly social outings in the community, and a Tuesday life skills group that focuses on tasks that are useful in members’ lives.

There will be an open house for the Saturday morning program on Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Darien Depot, from 11 a.m. to noon.

Activities

In its life skills program, the FunBusters — who span all ages and abilities — learn life skills and socialize, McArdle said.

“We have provided training and support for the young adults who are either living on their own or in a supported living facility,” McArdle said.

McArdle and Stamford resident Amy Scott, who are both teachers at Middlesex Middle School in Darien, are Funbusters’ program coordinators. Scott has been involved in the program for the past 20 years.

FunBusters take field trips together, such as to a Yankee game, and go to the movies, and out to eat. “We practice our ordering skills, social etiquette, and social interactions,” McArdle said. “It’s a fun time for everyone.”

They role-play real life scenarios and talk about their jobs and daily activities.

“We stress the importance of communicating and self-advocacy when dealing with their staff, roommates, and job coaches,” he said.

Bonding

According to McArdle, the program is unique due to the extremely close bond members have for one another.

“First and foremost, we are like a family and the members truly care for and look after one another,” he said.

Many members of the FunBusters gang shared their feelings about the program:

“We are all for one and one for all,” Tom Gogolak said.

“I met Brian and Amy,” Paul Socci said.

Thomas Gallagher said, “We are very close friends.”

Kevin Pirro said, “It’s a great program to hang out with my friends and attend community outings every month.”

“We are one FunBuster family and we are very special friends,” David D’Andrea said.

They have a shared history and that has developed over the years, according to McArdle.

“There are traditions that have evolved such as holiday parties and sharing in big milestones of our members,” McArdle said. “It’s a safe setting and [they] have always felt accepted and included in this environment.”

Thriving

McArdle credits many reasons for the program thriving for so long, one of which is the Depot.

“The Depot, which is our home base, has been extremely supportive — especially Janice Marzano, who has always been an integral supporter of FunBusters,” he said.

He added that it has been the commitment and loyalty of participants, families, and the YMCA that has allowed FunBusters to continue.

‘A calling’

McArdle, who is approaching his 38th year as a special education teacher, said FunBusters is “a labor of love” for him.

“It’s very fulfilling for me,” he said. “They are my second family.”

While he was growing up, his uncle, who had Down Syndrome, lived with him and his family.

“That’s what led me to the area of special education teaching,” McArdle said. “That’s when my calling came.”

For more information on FunBusters, contact Suzanne Richards, Youth Development and Special Needs Programs at the Darien YMCA, at 203-655-8228, ext. 1331, or visit darien-ymca.org. There is a tuition charge to join FunBusters.  

sfox@darientimes.com