This morning I joined Urban Girl Squad to volunteer at the Achilles International Saturday workout. Achilles International is an organization dedicated to enabling people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics in order to promote personal achievement, enhance self esteem, and lower barriers to living a fulfilling life. Today was a workout event where kids with various disabilities come together to play games that get them active. Urban Girl Squad, a social networking organization for young women living in the NYC area, linked me up with this event, and it was one of my favorite so far!
The day started with meeting my new friend, K.E., an Achilles Kid who comes early every week to set up. I swear he did almost the entire gym himself, pasting moons and stars all over the walls. Can you guess what the theme of the week was? K.E. and I became buddies for the day and got ready to launch into the final frontier. Slowly other kids began to arrive, and each one came running out to grab their favorite volunteer and a basketball. The energy in the room was to die for.
I have mentioned before that my brother Peter grew up with Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, which is similar to autism in its symptoms. I can speak firsthand to the importance and impact of programs just like this, as I have seen how they shaped my brothers life. As the day went I never stopped smiling.
I was so impressed at how Megan, the program leader, created such detailed and thematically impressive activities for us all day. We ran shooting-star laps, relayed moon rocks (glass beads) using space gloves (oven mits), and did a team relay where we had to stick as many plants and stars on the poster board as possible, running across the gym and back to tag in the next astronaut. I was lucky, because K.E. is a heck of a runner. Our galaxy turned out beautifully, and you better believe that K.E. called it and said we would win. See the gold? You guessed it...shooting stars. Brilliant!
This day was all about the kids, so I waited until the end of our workout to pop on the crown. It was a perfect surprise! They had no idea that Miss New York had been playing with them the whole time! We took lots of pictures and talked with lots of excited parents about the wonderful kids with whom I had spent the morning.
I watched a child in a walker race to tag out a friend in Duck, Duck, Goose. I saw a boy too shy to speak start to roar with laughter at the sight of our tinsel stardust. Each Achilles Kid was incredibly different than the other, yet at no point today did these differences matter. The environment was such that everyone felt safe to be themselves. For these two hours everyone was treated with respect, love, and support. There were no winners or losers. From the kids to the volunteers to the parents...this program is a shining example of how coming together can lead to everybody winning.
Thank you to Urban Girl Squad for hooking me up with this great event, to Achilles International for organizing such a wonderful program, to all the volunteers who gave up their Saturday morning for a wonderful cause, and most of all...to all the Achilles Kids!!! I can't wait to come back and play again soon.
Check out full photo coverage of the event.