By Wendy Hunter, photos courtesy of Ken Webster Photography
Can you imagine a childhood without a single friend? Children with disabilities are 65% more likely to experience bullying than children without. Parkland Buddy Sports (PBS) promotes friendship, and inclusion not just on the sports fields, but in everyday life because every child matters.
We hear the term inclusion a lot these days, for PBS, inclusion is one of the main pillars of the program. On any given weekend, you can see the Parkland Buddy Sport’s Big Red tent set up on Parkland’s pristine fields or courts with hundreds of volunteers in red shirts running alongside their players with special needs. There is laughter, engagement and a certain sparkle in the air that is both inspiring and tangible.
Serving South Florida families with children and young adults with special needs since 2002, the program provides recreational sports programs, special events and peer to peer engagement all free of charge for every family that has a child with special needs. “The focus of the program is on fun and friendship, not necessarily becoming proficient in any one sport,” says Joe De Braga, one of the founding members of the volunteer board of PBS, “the kids with special needs really look forward to seeing their buddies each week, being outside, running around and just having fun.”
The program provides opportunities for children and young adults with special needs and teen volunteers to come together to participate in organized sporting activities in an inclusive, safe, and fun filled environment. Buddies’ sports programs take place over the weekends and run concurrently with the school calendar. Through peer guidance and support by our volunteers the player/athletes are aptly challenged and participate at the appropriate age and skill level. The focus of Buddy Sports is a vision that cultivates mutual respect, builds friendships, and values people because of, not in spite of, their differences or abilities.
For twenty years, PBS has been fostering a “No Limits” community, free of barriers, where everybody feels safe and welcomed and where trust is present. The student volunteers enrolled in PBS are truly exceptional. Like many high school students with plates full of rigorous academia and after school activities, our volunteers put their other obligations on the sidelines when they greet their player/athlete and go out of their way to nourish their friendship, provide a feeling of acceptance and a sense of belonging.
Bob Mayersohn, who has also been with the program since its inception, serves as a Commissioner in the City of Parkland and is also the President of Parkland Buddy Sports says “Looking back over these past 20 years, its amazing to see how much the program has grown. Our success is based upon continuously evaluating and improving our efforts, the support of our dedicated volunteer board members, and the commitment of our amazing volunteers. Watching our players blossom outside of their comfort zones is truly rewarding.”
Parkland Buddy Sports is always looking to reach more families with children and young adults with special needs to let them know about this inclusive program. The activities and events give the players and their parents a chance to make lifelong friendships. The program is funded entirely by personal and corporate donations and every dollar donated goes directly back into the program. To get involved please visit www.parklandbuddysports.org.