Unatego Alum Launches Autism-Inspired Play Space for All Children

By Allison Collins

ONEONTA – After her second child Noah, 4, was diagnosed with autism, Unatego alum Sheila Burch Andreic became inspired to launch an inclusive recreation and enrichment center that catered not only to Noah’s unique play needs, but those of all children through age 12.

The result is Noah’s World, located at 144 Roundhouse Road in Oneonta. Together with a group of parents, local elected officials and family members, Andreic hosted a Noah’s World ribbon-cutting in early December.

The main thing is that there’s something for every child here,” Andreic said. “There’s options, and that’s something a lot of families I think felt was missing.”

The sprawling 3,800-square-foot West Oneonta space, formerly a warehouse, features child and toddler ball pits, a reading nook, an arts area, virtual gaming floor, several small-motor development areas, a video gaming space, a large make-believe and dramatic play space, an eating area and retail section and much more. A specially designed sensory cave, including textured wall coverings, lighted water features, white noise machines and ambient lighting, is a Noah’s World highlight.

Andreic grew the center from an initiative she began under the auspices of the Oneonta YMCA known as PALS, or Parents and Little Sidekicks, that, she said, saw “a big response” from area parents. That program, Andreic explained, was designed to facilitate easier, more child-friendly transitions from an at-home play setting to the more structured environment of a traditional school. Noah’s World and all it offers, Andreic said, strives to do the same.

The best part is, the parents are here to help guide their child,” Andreic said. “This helps kids with transitions, socializing, manners, basic skills and motor skills.”

Following its Dec. 7 opening, Andreic said, Noah’s World is being utilized by kids across the autism spectrum as well as special needs and neurotypical children.

I want them to feel this is a place made to feel safe,” Andreic said, adding, “To see all the different kinds of children having benefits from a place like this makes it all worthwhile.”

As much as Noah’s World was inspired by its namesake, Andreic said, the project has also fulfilled her own professional goals. Andreic, who graduated with Unatego’s Class of 2000 and went on to study marketing at SUNY Oneonta, said taking the leap to bring Noah’s World from concept to reality has proven a blessing.

(Previously) I never felt fulfilled and I just knew I had the potential for more,” she said, “and then the children that I have really changed me. Every experience I’ve had (with them) informs everything I do now.”

Noting that Noah’s World came to fruition at the same time that her family, which resides in Otego and Unadilla, suffered a series of losses, Andreic said, “It was those experiences that made us want to do more and realize that we’re only here for a short time. I had no plans for this … (but) I felt like it was a sign and now I have never felt so fulfilled.” She added that her father, Otego resident Robert Burch, played an integral part in helping realize Noah’s World.

Andreic said she plans to keep fostering collaborations with the Oneonta YMCA and other area children’s organizations while making Noah’s World accessible to parents of all young children, but especially those with a diagnosis or special needs. And, she said, the future means continuing to learn from the children that led to Noah’s World and helping others to learn, too.

There’s so much beauty in these children,” she said. “They’re amazing at the obstacles they are able to overcome … and my hope is that those parents who are maybe in denial or afraid can come in here, let their child play and realize they can gain so much.” She added, “Knowledge is power … and (children and adults) are gaining understanding. I hope more compassion is brought out by this.”

Noah’s World is available for birthday parties, parent-child groups, themed activities and day-to-day play sessions.

The facility is open Monday through Thursday, 12:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 1 to 8 p.m. and Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m. Quieter time play hours are observed Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., though non-members are requested to call if planning to come during that timeframe.

For more information, call Noah’s World at 432-PLAY, find Noah’s World on Facebook or visit noahsworld.net.

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