Youth (Disability) Sports Camp

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From July 24-29 my girlfriend and I volunteered at the Adaptive Sports and Recreation Association (ASRA) 31st Summer Youth Camp in San Diego, California.   ASRA’s mission is to “provide sports and recreation programs for children and adults with physical disabilities to ensure opportunities equal to their able-bodied peers. We believe that every athlete should have the opportunity to play the sports they love.”

This camp was for physically impaired children ages 4-18.  Over 60 children and teens with various disabilities, including spinal cord injuries, amputations, spina bifida, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy attended the camp and participated in over 15 sports including wheelchair basketball, rugby and tennis, archery, swimming, hand cycling, water tubing and skiing and sled hockey.  The Camp enabled campers to develop important skills to help them stay active and healthy, develop positive self-esteem, leadership skills, independence and most importantly, opened them up to a whole new world of possibilities!

The Camp was incredibly impressive not only for providing opportunities for children with disabilities similar to able bodied American children who typically attend summer camps, but also the number of partnerships developed and volunteers participating.  The major Camp sponsors were the Junior Seau Foundation and Anthem Blue Cross through its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program.  One corporate ABC Medical, which is connected with adaptive sports in a big way, sponsoring the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA), set up a table at the Camp providing campers with t-shirts, catheters and other accessories.  A number of service groups, the Lions Club and Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC) as well as a local fire department served lunches and breakfast.  Restaurants donated food and Luna Grill also conducted a major fundraiser.  Miramar College provided the venue for three days.  And there were numerous other sponsors. 

The large number of volunteers ranged in age from youngsters to the elderly.  I was especially impressed with the younger volunteers, mainly teenagers, because they didn’t just observe; they fully participated, e.g. getting into hockey sleds and jumping into a wheelchair to play basketball.  Many of the counselors were young adults who had also spent time at the Camp when they were younger and now were able to give back to the campers.  The President of the ASRA Board of Directors who works at Intuit, had a number of her colleagues volunteering through their CSR program.  Intuit provides employees with 32 hours/year of paid volunteering time at local non-profits.  There was also a group of employees volunteering from Kohl’s Department store as part of their CSR program. 

On the first day of Camp I jumped into a boat owned by one of the camper’s parents, which was being used to pull a tube with three people. (I also tried this and was laughing the entire time).  I sat across from a teen with cerebral palsy who was having a conversation with an adult.  The camper said, “You can do anything you put your mind to, don't let anyone tell you that you can't just because you have a disability.”  I also participated with this teen while she was playing basketball in her power wheelchair.  We had a plastic hoop, gave her a small ball and brought the hoop right next to her so that she could make a basket.  The smile on her face was huge. To the best of her ability she rolled up and down the court with her teammates. I also observed a number of the campers, some of whom were terrific athletes, ensure that their lesser ability teammates were able to play by giving them a ball and clearing their way towards the basket.

One of the adults, who is a wheelchair basketball player, and is living with muscular dystrophy told me that there is still a lot of “stigma” attached to disability.  “People feel for you but they don’t recognize that you can do things.”  This Camp provided numerous opportunities and proved otherwise.

Having been involved in the disability sector in India, Nepal and now the US, I am constantly thinking about how more opportunities can be provided in the “developing” world.  This Camp showed how partnerships focusing on, in this case children with disability, can make a huge impact not only on children but also on bringing various sectors together to develop further inclusion. 

As readers of my column are aware the second edition of the Turkish Airlines ENGAGE (Wheelchair Basketball) Empowering League recently finished. This took a huge effort on the part of many but it did bring together a number of sectors to make the League a reality.  But why only focus on adults when there are children living with disability who most likely have very few opportunities to participate?  What greater point of entrée is there than having access to playing sports at a young age?  As shown for the past 31 years at the ASRA camp, partnerships are the key to providing opportunities for youngsters opening up possibilities to do anything no matter one’s abilities. 

 

Position: Programme Manager

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