- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - For most of his life, 17-year-old Cole Kuckolick has been painfully shy.

The shyness stemmed from his diagnosis of non-verbal autism and communication disorder - a condition which generally limits his responses to one-word answers.

That’s made it tough for the Kokomo High School junior to make friends or have any kind of social life.

On a recent Monday, Cole danced to the beat of a DJ with Annalisa Varnau at the Social Club.

The get-together is hosted by the Mental Health Association of Howard County, which recently moved the club’s party to the meeting area at the offices of Center Township at 213 E. Jefferson St.

“It’s a fun time,” said Jill Snyder, the executive director of the association. “Everyone clowns around and dances. They can sing. We have games. We have skits . I think the volunteers and staff have just as good of a time as anybody here.”

At the party last week, around five dozen people showed up for a late New Year’s celebration. The crowd ranged from teenagers to senior citizens. All had some kind of mental-health issue, ranging from autism, Down syndrome, bipolar disorder, addictions or panic attacks.

For many people with mental-health problems, it can be tough to find someone to talk to or hang out with.

But that’s not the case when the club gets together.

“There’s still a stigma about mental-health issues,” she said. “But here, everyone is the same and treated the same . It’s about getting some camaraderie, and it gives them a chance to get out.”

Bob Morrisett said that’s why he likes coming to Social Club. He came to his first get-together about three years ago just to check it out, and has been hitting it up ever since.

The dancing and partying are great, he said, and he loves the old music the DJs play - especially songs by Buddy Holly.

“I’m thankful to be coming to a place like this,” he said. “It kind of relieves your nerves a little bit. I wouldn’t say it takes your troubles away or anything like that, but at least you can talk to somebody. It makes you feel relieved.”

For some, the club has meant more than just a place to socialize, though. Snyder said she’s seen a few romances develop between people who regularly frequent the parties. Some have even gotten married.

Pat Renshaw said he’s been volunteering at the parties for around five years, and has gotten to know just about all the regulars who attend.

“I started out just pouring drinks. Now, I’ve worked my way up to doorman,” he said with a laugh.

The retired Kokomo firefighter said after coming to the parties for so long, it’s like he’s getting together with his own friends every other week.

“Everybody is dancing and interacting and having a good time,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to see that.”

Paula Kuckolick said she comes to the party mostly to help her son, Cole. But after three years seeing the way Social Club transforms people, it’s a place she also loves coming to.

“The people here aren’t worried about their hair or their makeup or their phones,” she said. “They’re not trying to impress anyone. They don’t know how to fake laugh. For me, that’s inspiring.”


Source: Kokomo Tribune, https://bit.ly/1me5sOA


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

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