Overwhelmed at events? Toms River has a spot for those with PTSD, autism
TOMS RIVER — The township has launched the first-ever mobile sensory activation trailer to help better serve people with autism and those suffering from PTSD, along with their families who want to stay and enjoy community events.
It is the first trailer of its kind ever to be purchased in any municipality in the country, said Leigh Simpson, chairman of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Developmental Disabilities.
He said the idea came from The Toms River Field of Dreams Project, a special needs park. When project members came to a committee meeting, they mentioned they had a special sensory area in the park.
This sparked interest from the mayor’s committee. “We thought it would be great if we could have a quiet space where people can go if they get overwhelmed at an event, that we can just take to different events,” Simpson said.
Committee member Tracey Fournier did some research and found a sensory activation vehicle made by a company called Kulture City, based in Alabama. Their vehicles are typically rented out by stadiums and for big events. But Fournier had the idea to purchase a vehicle, which stunned the company because nobody had ever wanted to buy a vehicle before.
In 2020, Fournier presented the idea to the committee and Mayor Maurice Hill said he thought it was a great idea but was wondering where he was going to get the funds to buy such a vehicle.
“We have done a lot in the community where we’re focused on responding to residents’ wishes and any ideas they have. This one came from the committee, specifically Tracey. It was interesting because not many people pose a question and a solution at the same time. So, I have to give Tracey Fournier all the credit,” Mayor Hill said.
She launched the fundraiser, raised over $30,000 to purchase the trailer, and donated it to the town, Hill said. The sensory trailer is housed in the Toms River police department parking lot.
The trailer serves as a quiet space for anyone who may get overwhelmed at a big event. Simpson said in the past, families may have stopped going to events because a loved one could not handle the stimulation of all the noise.
“So, the purpose of this trailer is someone can go in there, decompress, regroup, to be able to rejoin the event, whereas in the past they would’ve had to leave,” Simpson said.
Inside the trailer are three comfortable bean bag chairs and an interactive light show with changing colors. Simpson said the lighting is very soft and it’s the only lighting inside the trailer. There are also water bubbles that change color, and on the walls are different tactile objects that people can fidget or play with to help them calm down, Simpson added.
Also, anyone, who goes in there will get a gift bag with different tactile objects, a pair of noise-canceling headphones, and a VIP pass so when they come back, they know they’re one of our own, Simpson said.
The mobile sensory activation trailer first debuted on Saturday, July 16 at Downtown Toms River’s “Summer in the Street” event on Washington Street.
Simpson said about seven children came in and used the trailer.
“It was great because parents came by and said they have a kid with autism that they didn’t bring to the event, but now they’re going to start bringing their children to downtown events now that this is here,” he said.
People were very interested in the trailer, wondering what it was all about, and were excited to spread the word to families and friends who would benefit from it, Simpson said.
The goal is always inclusion. He said the trailer is really for everyone and anyone for any reason they may have to just get away to a quiet spot and collect themselves.
“I’m hoping this will inspire other towns or states or counties to try and do the same thing because it’s all about inclusivity,” Simpson said.
Mayor Hill is thrilled that such a trailer exists in Toms River for the many community events that happen, especially in the downtown area.
“I’m very proud that we respond to requests for recreational activities and things we can address in town and make our lives better for our residents,” Hill said.
The mobile sensory activation trailer will next appear at “National Night Out” hosted by the Toms River Police Department on Tuesday, Aug. 2 at Huddy Park.
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