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Miller: Fox Valley area rich in recreation for individuals with disabilities

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013 5:32 a.m. CDT
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(Photo provided)
Willem VanLoon and Fox Valley Special Recreation Association staff member Kelsey Fagan share a moment during the FVSRA's Day Camp at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia this summer. The FVSRA provides year-round recreational opportunities to residents with disabilities.

“Aerodynamically, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.”

How right Mary Kay Ash was when she uttered those words. It reminded me of the Special Olympics athletes I coached for two years through the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association. So often they live their lives without fear or without knowing their own limitations. They approach every day as a new day and take such joy in the things they do. They are a true inspiration.

The FVSRA provides year-round recreational opportunities to residents with disabilities. The Batavia Park District is one of seven member agencies and makes up approximately 10 percent of the participants. Partnerships with those agencies are key to the FVSRA’s success, and Batavia is honored to play such a large part of that.

“I can’t say enough about the fantastic experiences our staff has had working with the Batavia Park District,” said Sandy Blondin, superintendent of recreation for the FVSRA. “It’s truly a family approach to making sure participants have a great experience. Batavia has set the bar high, and our partnership has been very positive.”

Every year, the FVSRA serves approximately 6,500 individuals with disabilities. From special events and Special Olympics sports to summer day camps and trips, it truly provides something for everyone.

“The programs we offer give everyone the opportunity to be appreciated and accepted, regardless of their abilities,” Blondin said. “We provide a lifetime of leisure opportunities for participants – from the toddler learning to swim, to the teen in Special Olympics sports, to the senior who participates in bingo night. We want to make sure they’re having the best positive recreation and leisure experience we can.”

Through the partnership with the FVSRA, the Batavia Park District is able to provide inclusion services to park district participants. Inclusion is the process of taking a person who has a disability and including him or her into a typical recreation program with varying levels of assistance. This can include making changes to the program or providing accessible equipment to put everyone on an equal playing field. Nearly 2,500 inclusion hours are devoted to Batavia participants annually.

Blondin shared with me the story of a young girl from Batavia who participated in a ski trip offered through the FVSRA. The group traveled to Breckenridge, Colo., for the trip.

“She was nervous because she had never been skiing, but after some one-on-one instruction, she became more confident,” Blondin said. “By the end of the trip she was able to go down the hill without assistance. That was an experience she never would’ve been able to have had if not been for our partnership with the Batavia Park District.”

My experience volunteering for the FVSRA was incredibly rewarding. I would venture to say the athletes taught me more in those two years than I was able to teach them, which is typical, according to Blondin.

“Volunteering promotes a greater understanding and overall acceptance of individuals with disabilities,” she said. “It has such a positive impact on the volunteer, while promoting greater compassion and respect for others.”

Blondin’s passion for her job and the participants she has instructed is obvious to anyone who meets her. After being in charge of the FVSRA’s popular summer day camp program, she was promoted to superintendent of recreation. She holds a degree in therapeutic recreation from Illinois State University.

For information about Batavia Park District’s partnership with the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association, visit www.bataviaparks.org or www.fvsra.org.

• Kari Miller is director of marketing and public relations for the Batavia Park District. Contact her at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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