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Sensory backpacks introduced at Wildcat Hills

The new sensory backpacks at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center have a variety of items to stimulate senses and calm anxious youth. (Photo by Amanda Filipi)

GERING, Neb. – A new offering at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center has special meaning to the person who implemented it. It is a new checkout program for sensory backpacks.

Amanda Filipi, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission outdoor education specialist who is based at the center, said she learned of sensory backpacks after her nephew was diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

“I read about the sensory backpacks popping up in several different places across the nation, like museums and zoos,” she said. “I figure, why not our nature center?”

While leading hundreds of children on field trips and programs each year, Filipi sometimes encounters children who might benefit from such an offering. She compiled the materials for the backpacks and made them available for checkout free of charge at the center’s front desk earlier this month.

The backpack’s contents are designed to both stimulate the senses and serve as a calming kit for youth who face anxiety during field trips and other busy events at the center. They include sunglasses, noise dampening earmuffs, books and a variety of sensory toys. The backpacks complement a number of quiet spaces that have been designated in the building.

“I want to make sure all of our visitors feel welcome at our center or our programs, including my nephew,” she said.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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