By Wendy Hunter & Ken Webster
Parkland Buddy Sports (“PBS”) has been serving South Florida families since its opening in 2002, offering recreational programs for children and young adults with special needs (“Players”) and connecting student volunteers (“Buddies”) looking to make a difference in their communities while earning service hours towards their graduation.
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. PBS programs take place over the weekends and run concurrently with the school calendar. Through peer guidance and support by our Buddies, the Players are aptly challenged and participate at the appropriate age and skill level.
PBS began with soccer Buddies, partnering with the City of Parkland and the local recreational soccer league. The City of Parkland has been a phenomenal partner offering the use of their fields, equipment, expertise, and guidance in setting up and managing this “new” sports program. Word quickly spread and the program grew from one sport, with a few volunteers and players, to eight different sports, an organized and dedicated Board of Directors to oversee the growing program and hundreds of volunteers and players. In 2009, PBS made the strategic decision to become a 501c3 registered non-profit organization with a focus on offering these life changing sports programs fee-free for every family with a child or young adult with special needs.
Bob Mayersohn, who has been involved since the inception of PBS, is its current President and also serves as a Commissioner in the City of Parkland, says “Looking back, it is incredible to see how we have organically grown. Our success is a result of providing opportunities for these incredible Buddies and Players to learn, play and have fun, building lifelong bonds and making a difference in the lives of others. We remind all involved to never lose sight of our mission; that there are “No Limits” to what can be achieved by our players with special needs, and our volunteers. When we all work together to understand and embrace our differences and similarities, that’s when the magic happens. Watching our players and volunteers grow and mature over the past 20 years has been truly rewarding.”
The stories of personal achievement and growth are endless. The drivers for personal involvement in the program are as unique as the program itself, but one of the more common threads has been having close family ties. One example is Bob’s son Garrett, who was one of the first players in the program and was then, and continues to be now, one of the strongest advocates, engaging his fellow student peers to join the organization as volunteers.
The list of local families deeply involved in the program including the Cordovers (Jared, Julia and Joey), the Hunters (John, Hank and Shane), the Clarks (Ryland, Linden and Jensen) the Websters (Kiersten and Kayla), and so many more, all represent volunteers following in the footsteps of their older siblings and other relatives in the program. The program has been strengthened by families bonding together and committing to give of themselves and make a difference in the lives of others.
Once they are exposed to the program, our volunteers, who may begin in the program out of a need for service hours, have their motivations changed to love and a desire to “make a difference”. John Hunter is one of those exceptional volunteers who was previously a student volunteer and currently serves as an adult volunteer. The family connections include every combination from siblings to parents and even grandparents participating alongside their grandchildren.
Several families have both a player and a volunteer in the program and that always brings an added value to the program. The sibling volunteers of our players are experienced in working with children with special needs and share the love and compassion they have for their family members with other volunteers, providing a real-world example to those that may be meeting and playing together with someone with special needs for the very first time.
PBS continues to grow and is always looking for new ways to reach families of children and young adults with special needs to let them know about the various programs and special events that are offered. The activities offered by PBS give the players, their families, and the volunteers a chance to learn, have fun and build lasting friendships.
The program is funded entirely by personal and corporate donations and every dollar donated goes back into the program.
To get involved or to donate to this amazing organization please visit www.parklandbuddysports.org.