By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

T he children grin in anticipation of a warm swim on a blustery winter morning.

Today, though, the shrieks and splashes that normally echo across the pool of Sam-O Swim are noticeably absent.

This special open swim is a bit calmer than usual to welcome children who are more sensitive to noise and chaos.

The “sensory-friendly” open swim is one of many programs offered by Community FORCE, an organization aimed at improving the lives of children in Eastern Oregon who are living with disabilities.

FORCE stands for Families of Rare Complex and Exceptional individuals. The program is a member of the Oregon Consortium of Family Networks.

Karla Macy and Cassi LeTourneau are the program coordinators based in Baker City.

One of the first sensory friendly events happened in December when Community FORCE worked with the Kiwanis Club to provide a calmer environment for Santa photos during the Festival of Trees.

Now the program offers a monthly art event, on the first Friday at Hatch, 2019 Main St., and those interested must RSVP through FORCE's Facebook page.

This past weekend brought two new opportunities: open swim in the morning, and then early afternoon matinees at the Eltrym Theater to see “LEGO Movie 2.”

For the movies, which played at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, the lights stayed on and the volume wasn’t as loud as normal. Also, movie watchers were welcome to move and make a bit of noise if needed.

At each of these events Macy provides a tote full of fidget toys as well as noise-cancelling headphones.

To explain “sensory friendly,” Macy says some individuals “have trouble processing sensory input.” This can be a condition of autism or sensory processing disorder.

However, Community FORCE is not limiting their programs to certain children — all are welcome.

“The events we’re doing are open to anybody,” Macy said. “We’ve been collaborating with the Y in a few ways, the Eltrym, and lots of social service organizations to identify what families need and how we can reach them.”

She pointed out the matinee movies, which could also appeal to parents of toddlers who can’t sit through any entire movie without getting antsy.

Macy said Community FORCE hopes to raise awareness in the community about offering sensory friendly events.

Parent groups

Community FORCE is scheduling times each month for a parent support group and parent networking meeting.

Usually these are set for 10 a.m. on the last Monday of the month, but they might be moved due to holidays. For up-to-date news, check the group’s Facebook page, as well as the website www.communityforcefn.org

The website is also a place to fill out membership or volunteer forms.

Membership benefits listed on the website include a lending library, assistance navigating local services, networking with families, continuing education and more.

Mission of community FORCE

“Our mission is to bridge the gap between families, resources and the community. In order to improve the lives of children in Eastern Oregon living with disabilities, we aim to sustain a network of families who can share resources and ideas as well as their diverse backgrounds with others. This will empower caregivers to advocate for their child and will also cultivate connections based on diversity and inclusion. Community FORCE will accomplish this mission by supporting families and individuals whose lives are impacted by disability.”

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