Community Grants Light the Way:

UBC student creates a sensory-rich therapeutic space

A story showcasing student learning experiences at UBC — ways for students to participate in community service learning, research, internships, mentorships, international opportunities and co-op experiences.

When UBC developmental psychology student Natasha Ingeniero took a Reading Week placement at Surrey-based Options Community Services Society in 2015, she knew a bit about autism and developmental disabilities. What she didn’t know, however, was that with support from UBC’s Centre for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL), she was about to kickstart a social sustainability project that would benefit hundreds of children and their families for years to come. Another thing she couldn’t have guessed? The project would go on to inspire a similar initiative in a neighbouring city.

It’s just the start of what’s possible with the Chapman & Innovation Grants.

With support from Options and UBC’s CCEL, Natasha hatched a plan: to recreate, from the ground up, a ‘Snoezelen room’ — a controlled, multi-sensory playground of sorts for the children being served by Options’s Special Services for Children and Families (SSCF) program. These are children with autism, anxiety disorders, and developmental and physical disabilities — children who find peace and calm in the water walls, bubble tubes and LED lights of these proven therapeutic spaces. From her conversations with the staff at Options, Natasha knew there were similar offerings for families in Vancouver, but no such supports were conveniently located in the surrounding Surrey community. She also knew that the CCEL at UBC supported exactly this kind of community project through its Chapman & Innovation Grants.

Guided by the staff at the CCEL, Natasha drafted a proposal and applied for grant funding to make the Surrey Snoezelen room a reality. Administered by the CCEL and ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, the Chapman & Innovation Grants provide seed money for students such as Natasha and community groups to work together to put their values into practice and give life to their ideas for making society a better place.

With the CCEL and Options helping her throughout the grant proposal-writing process, Natasha gained clarity around the project goals and identified her target audience. She learned how to plan ahead and build a detailed budget. From there, Natasha assembled a small group of UBC student volunteers to assist her in making the Snoezelen room a reality. It was a risk and there were no guarantees of success. But that’s what the grants are for — to allow students those ‘stretch opportunities’ and to learn from the experience. Working with CCEL and Options staff, she and the student team set about planning a safe and interactive space for the children in the SSCF program.

The team members visited the Snoezelen room at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice to gather ideas. They found bubble tubes. They ordered voice-activated light strips. They shopped for disco balls. They painted. They laughed.

They created a much-needed space for the community.

Natasha and team assemble the Snoezelen room

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Natasha and team assemble the Snoezelen room


One of the boys […] asked to use the Snoezelen room again later when he was feeling anxious. It helped him complete the day.

“We had our grand opening in August [2015],” says Lori Lacroix, assistant program manager for the SSCF program at Options. “We had a summer program running at the time. One of the boys in that program had come in swearing and angry and anxious, saying he didn’t want to be there.”

This child was the very first person to enter the Snoezelen room, says Lacroix. Just a few minutes later he was calm enough to rejoin his program. It was instantly clear to Lacroix that the room had a powerful influence on behaviour. “He asked to use the Snoezelen room again later when he was feeling anxious. It helped him complete the day.”

Now, a year later, the Options Snoezelen room is utilized every day by children in the SSCF program. The children’s ages range from five to 18 years. “We’ve even had social workers ask us whether the room is available for rental, including staff from the Ministry of Child and Family Development,” marvels Lacroix. The Snoezelen room project has had a positive effect on the wider community, she explains, with leaders from other community groups coming in to look at the room and ask questions about how the children use it. The ripple effect is strong, with community members gaining more knowledge and understanding about developmental disabilities as a result.

The effects, however, spread beyond the interactive walls of the Snoezelen room in Surrey. After the launch of the SSCF Snoezelen room, Options teamed up with Rotary International and applied for a second grant for a similar room in Options’s satellite Langley location.

Explore a 360-degree image of the Snoezelen room

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Explore a 360-degree image of the Snoezelen room

The possibilities for positive change grow exponentially when UBC students partner with community organizations to effect change. It’s exactly what the Chapman & Innovation Grants were designed for — to guide students with experiences that enrich and broaden their education, and that connect them with the global community. With support from the grants and step-by-step guidance from the CCEL, students gain real-world skills that help them shape the world into a more supportive, sustaining place for all of us.

Community Project Partners

Centre for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL) — The CCEL collaborates with students, staff, faculty and community partners to work through complex community-based issues. CCEL programs place students in community settings (non-profits and inner city schools) either as a required part of an academic course, or through voluntary co-curricular placements like Trek and Reading Week for a hands-on, immersive experience. They also provide resources and support to instructors, departments, and faculties, to enhance teaching and learning processes. The CCEL connects University resources to the community in ways that support lasting relationships.

By working with the CCEL and partner organizations, students are supported to innovate, take risks and experiment with ideas. They develop concrete skills such as grant writing, leadership and partnership development that they can carry forward into their degrees and their careers beyond. As the middle link in the chain that connects students with community organizations, CCEL staff are right there to help students apply their disciplinary knowledge to societal issues through the grants, and develop initiatives that benefit a broad range of people. Learn more at the Changemaker Showcase in November, at skills-based grant workshops or by stopping in at the CCEL office.

Natasha Ingeniero — Student, Integrated Science, Physiology & Behavioural Neuroscience, Faculty of Science.

Options Community Services — Options Community Services is a non-profit registered charity providing social services primarily in Surrey, Delta, White Rock and Langley. Options believes in helping people help themselves and collaborating with individuals, businesses, community groups and government to create focused, effective and responsive resources for the community.

Story Credits

Special thanks to our story partners:

Susan Grossman, Director, UBC Centre for Community Engaged Learning; Annie Feng, Content and Engagement Strategist, Student Communications Services; Natasha Ingeniero, Integrated Science Student, Faculty of Science; Lori Lacroix, Assistant Program Manager, Options Community Services & team.

Team credits: Communications & Marketing — Cindy Connor, Online Producer; Margaret Doyle, Digital Storyteller; Michael Kam, Web Developer; Adrian Liem, Manager, Digital Communications; Mark Pilon, Communication Designer; Jamil Rhajiak, Communications Coordinator; Aida Viziru, Web Interaction Designer; Matt Warburton, Manager, Graphic Design; Alex Van Tol, Writer; David Leidl, Copy Editor.

Published: October 2016