WESTLAKE, OH — Physical disabilities don’t stop kids in northeastern Ohio from being active and participating in sports. Sport is a life changing mindset.
Meet 10-year-old Kate Soder. She was born with a rare genetic disorder known as Joubert Syndrome.
“It’s often compared to cerebral palsy. It affects balance, coordination and speech,” said Chuck Soder, Kate’s father.
Kate’s condition makes walking difficult, and her father told News 5 that she’s not strong enough to use a wheelchair.
“Kate really loves youth challenges,” said Chuck.
Kate is one of a dozen children having the time of their lives that day at the program’s Westlake Gym. increase.
“You can’t find a sport you’re not adaptable to. Gar said.
The program has been running since 1976 and is free to attend.
There are about 150 children aged 3 to 18, and everyone who is registered gets free entry and exit to the session thanks to a Youth Challenge owned and driven paratransit van .
Youth Challenge alum Bree Sprenger said it boosted her confidence.
“It really helped me become a new person and made me feel really confident, like my self-esteem was so much better,” she said.
Sprenger started at age 10 and now volunteers.
Born without legs and a right arm, the program helped Sprenger learn how to swim competitively and qualify for the Paralympics.
“The Youth Challenge was so big because I got to have a mentor who looked up to someone who lived in their own place and had a job. she said.
Alongside all participating children are teenage volunteers who help participants learn how to play using new tools and rules.
Program volunteer Ben Hallowell said:
Garr says passion comes with positivity.
“They may come here for six, eight, ten hours of service, but boy do they drink Kool-Aid! And you just fall in love. We fall in love with inclusivity,” Garr says.
Garr told News 5 that many volunteers are pursuing careers in physical therapy, occupational therapy and social work.
In fact, Garr says volunteering as a teenager was how he discovered The Youth Challenge and where he met his best friend, Sean.
“It builds community. It builds confidence. It builds problem solving,” says Garr.
Sprenger can’t imagine life without programming.
“I can’t imagine my life without the challenges of youth. I love going every week as I absolutely love everyone here. They are my family,” she said.
The Youth Challenge accepts children from all over Northeast Ohio and best of all offers free paratransit. For those enrolled in the program.
To connect with Youth Challenge, click here.
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