Shoremen Soccer Players Team Up with Youth Challenge

On Thursday, June 28th, the Avon Lake High School Boys Soccer Team and participants and volunteers from Youth Challenge joined together to celebrate the Paralympics!

Youth Challenge not only provides adapted sports and recreational opportunities to young people with physical disabilities and their teen volunteer partners but the U.S. Paralympics, a division of the National Olympic Committee, designated YC as Paralympic Sport Cleveland.

Four YC Teams—The Vipers, Betty White Killer Clown Memes, Three Pointers, and Nacho but Fantastic Bears—competed at Avon Lake Memorial Field throughout the day in various Paralympic events including tennis, basketball, track & field, and (of course) soccer.  Each team was led by YC staff members and 2 captains from the ALHS soccer team.  Activities were facilitated by ALHS soccer players who explained rules, kept score, and cheered on YC participants.  Youth Challenge teen volunteers worked hands-on to help each participant adapt each sport and served as friends, mentors, and coaches in the process.  Over 80 children and teens of all abilities were present for the fun-filled day of competition.

“Putting on an event like this was truly special, not only for the participants but for our program as well,” said senior team captain Andrew Jacobson. “Thank you to Youth Challenge for allowing us to host this event. The Avon Lake Shoremen soccer program is proud to have worked with such an outstanding group of people.”

Paralympic Day ended with a soccer match where all 4 YC teams and the Avon Lake High School soccer players took the field to score on each other’s goals.  After all points were totaled, the Three Pointers were announced as the winners and each member received a gold medal prize!

“We were thrilled to have the Shoremen partner with YC,” said Sarah Perez-Stable, Director of Volunteer Services at YC.  “It was great to see these athletes come alive in sharing their love of soccer with our participants and volunteers and we hope to work with the team again soon.”


Youth Challenge participants, volunteers and members of the Shoremen Soccer team get ready to compete at Avon Lake Memorial Field for Paralympic Day.

Over 80 children and teens of all abilities were present for the fun-filled day of competition at Paralympic Day at Avon Lake Memorial Field.

Alumni Spotlight: Bridget Barry

Bridget Lauren

By: Margaret Biehl, YC Intern

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

Ages Involved in YC: 12-20

Bridget first heard about Youth Challenge in 7th grade after her teacher invited Sarah Perez-Stable to speak to her class about YC which sounded like a fun opportunity to Bridget. She proceeded to sign up for her first program that fall as a volunteer choosing the Dance and Drama program which she enjoyed so much that she signed up for more programs during the spring season.

Bridget continued to volunteer at YC throughout high school and get more involved. She even interned with the Board of Trustees and served as President of the YC Volunteer Committee. Bridget also contributed her time and service assisting with YC benefits and fundraisers. She credits YC for some of her fondest memories and a passion for service.

Bridget found that her experience volunteering at YC taught her about leadship skills and how to be an advocate for others, qualities that she finds valuable in her career working as a nurse. Other lessons she says she learned through her experience at YC include, sometimes letting loose and having fun is alright, which she witnessed through participants, and that it’s always important to give 110% of yourself and what you believe in, which she learned from the YC staff.

Bridget has found that YC has shaped her into the nurse she is today by teaching her about adaptability and flexibility and lastly, what it truly means to serve others. She encourages others to get involved in YC in any way they can as any encounter you have with the organization will definitely have an impact on you, one which will remain with you the rest of your life.

Alumni Spotlight: Sara Steimle

By: Margaret Biehl, YC Intern

Hometown: Parma

Years involved in YC: Age 5-present

Sara Steimle first joined Youth Challenge as a participant at age 5 after her physical therapist at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital referred her to the organization. Since getting involved in YC, Sara says she finds YC to be a place where everyone is excited to be friends with everyone and embrace everyone’s differences and similarities. She credits her experience with YC for gaining the ability to connect with people who are similar and different from her in everyday life.

Another thing that Sara discovered about YC is that any activity can be adapted to fit everyone’s individual needs. When she first started coming to YC programs, Sara says she was a shy little girl that cried every time her parents left her, but eventually YC evolved into a second home.

YC became a place where she could come to during the school year and summer and be herself. Today, Sara says she is a much more extroverted type of person and has gained the confidence to pursue things she used to think she was incapable of. For example, she chose to attend a college three hours away from home and to live on campus, something which she says would not have been something she’d ever do or think was possible.

Sara belives it is imoportant to get involved in YC because “it is like a big family where you can come and form friendships that will last a lifetime. YC also is a place where you can do things you never thought you could and in the process of doing that, have fun!”

25-Sara, Claire

 

30th Annual Golf Outing a Success!

Many thanks to the 114 golfers who supported the Youth Challenge 2018 Golf Outing on June 25 at Avon Oaks Country Club.  The event raised more than $25,000 that will directly help fund YC’s free, year-round adapted sports programs like basketball, swimming, Paralympic sports, and so much more.

Thank you to the following individuals and corporations for supporting the golf outing:

Presenting Sponsors
First Federal Lakewood
Scott & Julie Mawaka

Corporate Sponsors
BakerHostetler
Oatey Foundation

Lunch Sponsors
Automotive Specialty Services
Jason Pence, CFP, CWS
Cox-Murman Group, UBS Financial Services
Sibling Revelry Brewery
Thornhill Financial, Inc.

Underwriting Sponsors
Barb and Charlie Koch
Rheem Manufacturing Company
Sheetz
Stalex

Chipping Contest Sponsor
GPI Design

Hole in One Contest Sponsor
Nissan of North Olmsted/I-90 Nissan

Hole Sponsors
Kelly Akin & Ally Eberlein
Armada Risk Partners
Bromfield Café
Brouse McDowell, LPA
Jason Pence – Charles Schwab, Inc.
Cohen & Co.
The Coticchia Family
EY
Friends Helping Friends
Furrer & Associates
Gallagher Benefit Services
H&D Steel Service, Inc.
Harbor Communications
Darren and Leslie Hilliard
Huntington National Bank
Hylant
The Nock and Son Company
Protiviti
Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Saint Martin De Porres High School
Sheetz
School of Rock-Cleveland
Sixmo Inc.
Teamsters Local 507 CER Fund
Thrive Westshore
TMC Employee Benefits Group
Total Benefits Advisors
Trinity Specialty Compounding, Inc.
Ken and Beth Yaugher
YP4YC

Thank you to the following prize donors:
Costco
GolfTec
Minotti’s – Fairview Park

Special thanks to 2018 Golf Outing Chairs Darren Hilliard, Tom McIntyre, Steve Nock, John Petersen, and Mike Zablotney.

Youth Challenge is grateful to our donors and volunteers for making this event possible.

Click here to see photos of the golf outing.

YC Prom 2018

By: Margaret Biehl, YC intern

This past Thursday, June 21st, Youth Challenge participants, volunteers, and staff members gathered at YC for the YC prom dressed in their finest and craziest attire.

The YC building was decorated for a night Under the Y Sea.

The night included dinner consisting of chicken and pasta, dancing, karaoke, board games, a viewing of Shark week episodes, and a photobooth. Chris served as MC for the night and Gabby as DJ.Throughout the night all YC participants and volunteers had the opportunity to cast their vote for who would be crowned YC prom king and queen.  Participants Zaria and Blake won YC prom queen and king. Everyone had a blast.

During prom, I got a chance to chat with many YC partipants and volunteers about their experience with YC. Here is what some of them said:

YC participant Chris: “YC basically welcomed me with open arms…It has made me more confident in myself and provided me more independence than when I was younger.”

YC participant Alex B: “I can do stuff that I normally couldn’t do when I am at YC.”

YC participant Morgan B: “ I have gained more confidence fromm being involved in YC…I am really shy so being involved in YC has really made me feel like I can be myself.”

Looking forward to catching up with more YC people at other programs this summer!

Alumni Spotlight: Gabby Bova

11-Gabby

By: Margaret Biehl, YC Intern

Hometown: Avon, Ohio

Years involved in YC: Ages 5-18

Gabby Bova first became involved with Youth Challenge as a participant at age 5 after her occupational therapist referred her. By getting involved with YC it has strengthened Gabby’s ability to connect with people similar to her and form friendships that entail teaching and learning from one another. In addition, Gabby has gained an aptitude for confidence, determination, and courage to compete with and against other athletes with disabilities. Gabby notes that since getting involved with YC, she has developed a stronger sense confidence and independence in external settings. For example, Gabby is now able to drive herself to programs and be able to assist the staff, volunteers, and current participants. When asked why to get involved with YC, Gabby responded, “because it’s a very unique, welcoming place. YC  recognizes participant’s abilities and challenges them to step out of their comfort zone.  YC offers a wide variety of activities from art, bowling, team sports, and the list goes on. There is truly something for everyone at YC.” Lastly, Gabby noted that YC has helped shape her into the person she is today by helping her become more outgoing and willing to try new things. YC has also helped Gabby to recognize she is capable of doing things like everyone else but in a different way. Today, Gabby actively trains and competes in track and field events and 5k races which she credits being able to do from her experience with YC.

 

Exciting changes at YC

At the beginning of next year, Mary Sue Tanis, the founder and current leader of Youth Challenge, will be stepping out of her role of 42 years as Executive Director.  She’s not retiring!  Mary Sue will still very much be a part of YC, but will transition from her current position to focus on Planned Giving and Major Gifts.

“I’m excited to serve Youth Challenge in a whole new way,” said Tanis.  “With countless opportunities ahead for these amazing children and teens, I am extremely happy to be able to play a role in securing our mission going forward.”

Over the past 18 months, the Youth Challenge Board of Trustees and members of our Board of Advisors have helped craft a plan to ensure an exceptional candidate was found to replace Mary Sue. Chris Garr, YC’s Director of Program Services, was voted unanimously by the Youth Challenge Board to serve as the next CEO & Executive Director.  Ken Kasler, Chief Operating Officer, will continue to work in tandem with Chris to ensure the YC mission and services stay strong.

“I’ve held a deep passion for YC since first volunteering at the age of 12,” said Garr. “That passion has never waned, and I am proud to serve our families in this new capacity, alongside a staff of dedicated and caring professionals that are second to none.”

As Chris transitions to this new office, other program staffers will be shifting roles and responsibilities internally to keep YC running smoothly.  We will be utilizing the talents, skills, and heart of program staff Sarah Perez-Stable, Mackenzie Vecchio, Megan Smith, Laurel Sweet King, and others to cover all areas of program operation.

To all of the YC volunteers, participants, donors, and families thank you for being a part of Team YC as we enter this new chapter in our history.

Summer’s End Bash

This weekend Youth Challenge participants, volunteers, staff members, friends, and family celebrated the end of a great season at YC.

The whole YC parking lot was blocked off and made into an area to celebrate.

There was basketball, cornhole, a dunk tank, facepainting, tattoos, food, dancing, music, an area to chalk, and a watermelon eating contest. There was also a craft table set up where you first traced the outline of your hand onto old YC artwork, then you cut it out, and put it on block letters that said, “I ❤ YC” to make a collage. During the celebration, Chris got on top of the roof to take a picture of all participants and volunteers that were in a “YC” shape to commemorate the 41st summer of Youth Challenge. At the end of the night, a highlight video of the summer season was shown.

ADA Day 2017

On July 26th, Youth Challenge celebrated 27 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act down at Wade Oval in University Circle with many fellow Clevelanders. Local organizations, food trucks, and a big stage encompassed Wade Oval. Live music played throughout the evening, and crowds of people sat to listen. Some were even salsa dancing in the front.

The support Cleveland showed for the ADA was a wonderful sight to see. Youth Challenge brought the energy with a flash mob; volunteers and participants stormed the stage to dance, cheer, and celebrate. The night was an inclusive party.

Play Ball!

On June 22nd, the YC gang spent the day playing and watching baseball. We started at French Creek Metro Park where we grilled out and had a picnic. Hot dogs were involved of course!

We then split into teams, boys vs. girls, and played some baseball. YC baseball is adapted to make it more fun for all participants, so buckets are placed at the bases, and to get the runner out, the baseman needs to toss the ball into the bucket. The game got pretty exciting; a few players even hit a homerun!

KeyBank Neighbors Make a Difference to YC

Each spring, thousands of employees gather for KeyBank’s Neighbors Make the Difference Day. To demonstrate their support and commitment to the community, Key employees volunteer at local non-profit organizations throughout the country.

A group of local KeyBank volunteers took part in the company’s annual community service day by lending many helpful hands to Youth Challenge. The volunteers scrubbed our fleet of ten vans inside and out and got them ready to roll for our 42nd summer.

YC provides over 5,000 free van rides to our participants annually. Without our transportation program, many of the participants would not be able to attend YC programs. The volunteers from KeyBank provided a valuable service by cleaning the vans for the kids. Thank you to our friends at KeyBank for including Youth Challenge in Neighbors Make the Difference Day!

Summer’s End Bash

By: Halle Mackert, YC Intern

This weekend Youth Challenge participants, volunteers, staff members, friends, and family celebrated the end of a great season at YC.

The whole YC parking lot was blocked off and made into an area to celebrate.

There was basketball, cornhole, a dunk tank, facepainting, tattoos, food, dancing, music, an area to chalk, and a watermelon eating contest. There was also a craft table set up where you first traced the outline of your hand onto old YC artwork, then you cut it out, and put it on block letters that said, “I <3 YC” to make a collage. During the celebration, Chris got on top of the roof to take a picture of all participants and volunteers that were in a “YC” shape to commemorate the 41st summer of Youth Challenge. At the end of the night, a highlight video of the summer season was shown.

 

YC 4
Sarah showing off her new tattoo.
YC3
Jalen waiting to see if his throw was enough to dunk Sarah.

I asked some participants what they loved most about this summer at YC:

  • Megan B said, “I loved hanging with my best friends.”
  • Chris: “I loved spending time with YC volunteers, staff, and participants.”
  • When Andy was asked what he loved most about this summer he said, “ADA Day because seeing the whole city of Cleveland come together was awesome.”
  • Caitlin’s favorite things about this summer were bowling and seeing her friends.

We can’t wait until next season!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADA Day 2017

By: Halle Mackert, YC Intern

On July 26th, Youth Challenge celebrated 27 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act down at Wade Oval in University Circle with many fellow Clevelanders. Local organizations, food trucks, and a big stage encompassed Wade Oval. Live music played throughout the evening, and crowds of people sat to listen. Some were even salsa dancing in the front.

The support Cleveland showed for the ADA was a wonderful sight to see. Youth Challenge brought the energy with a flash mob; volunteers and participants stormed the stage to dance, cheer, and celebrate. The night was an inclusive party.

3
Megan, Zaria, and Summer enjoying ADA Day.
2
Max and Blake take a break from the festivities to smile for the camera.
1
The gang on Wade Oval.

 

Coming together to celebrate the ADA was a great way to spend the evening. We can’t wait until next year!

Please visit: http://www.adacleveland.org/ to learn more.

 

 

 

 

 

Play Ball!

By: Halle Mackert, YC Intern

On June 22nd, the YC gang spent the day playing and watching baseball. We started at French Creek Metro Park where we grilled out and had a picnic. Hot dogs were involved of course!

We then split into teams, boys vs. girls, and played some baseball. YC baseball is adapted to make it more fun for all participants, so buckets are placed at the bases, and to get the runner out, the baseman needs to toss the ball into the bucket. The game got pretty exciting; a few players even hit a homerun!

5-Autumn
Autumn takes a swing!
15-Halle, Elna, Kelley
Elna, Kelley, and Halle enjoying a game of baseball.

The gang went from players to spectators when we headed over to Sprenger Stadium to watch the Lake Erie Crushers take on the Washington Wild Things. The YC participants and volunteers were by far the most enthusiastic and loudest fans in the stadium. We started cheers and yelled, “Here we go Crushers, here we go!” We even started the wave. During the 7th inning stretch, the group could be heard from miles away singing, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” We had a WOOOO-onderful time!

25-group @ game
The gang smiles for the camera at Sprenger Stadium.

 

 

Youth Empowerment and Leadership

img_0918
Lauren (L), with Simran and Sara at a YELP adapted photography program, summer 2016.

Lauren Pace, a participant in the Youth Empowerment and Leadership Program (YELP), offers her perspective on the individual and community benefits of the program.

The YELP program can assist the communities of greater Cleveland in a variety of ways.  Persons with disabilities sometimes have the stigma that opportunities within the community aren’t interesting to the disabled population.  However this is only a small percentage of the disabled population.  There are many individuals with disabilities who are excited to venture out of their comfort zone to explore new opportunities.

Businesses may feel that they have the lack of resources to accommodate these individuals.  However, this is not the case and this is something that YELP programs can assist in changing.  Participation and support in community outings offered through YELP provides businesses with feedback and support as well as guidance as to how to approach the barriers they may feel they encounter while having the disabled population in their businesses.  Another key component in regards to YELP programs is promoting independent skills to the participants as they venture out into the community realizing that they have the potential to be active members of society.   These individuals learn about public accessibility as well as community resources that can be provided from them as they are out in the community.  Based on individual capabilities, these resources include asking for assistance with ordering food, getting set up and paying for a meal while providing direction as to what to order, how much to pay, etc.

By having programs such as YELP, we can become a more inclusive community by benefiting individuals as well as businesses.  In the future by having YELP will significantly in helping people with disabilities become a part of the everyday norms.

Alumni Feature: Will Gallup

57- WillFor Will Gallup, making a difference for the community of people with disabilities is something that he has wanted to do his entire life. Currently, Will is a part-time student at Cuyahoga Community College where he is studying to become a social worker. Will says “I want to give back to the community that has done so much for me over the years and is still doing so much for me presently as we speak. My main goal is to leave the community better than it was when I came into the world as well as better than it is today. I am 100% hopeful and confident at the same time that it’s going to happen, and when I say it’s going to happen, I mean that the community itself will be better off for generations to come.”

As part of his efforts to leave an impact on this community, Will recently accepted the position of Good Life Ambassador at the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Through this ambassadorship, he will able to share his thoughts with the board on many important issues. He will have the opportunity to travel throughout Cuyahoga County and some other areas of Ohio to give presentations to people one-on-one and in group settings. Will hopes that this opportunity will lead to much bigger opportunities in the near future. This is an important stepping stone in his life where he hopes to inspire others and change things for the better.

In addition to the ambassadorship, Will was appointed in January as a member of the Human Rights Committee at the Rose-Mary Center in Euclid.  His role in the committee is to preserve and protect the rights of the clients at Rose-Mary. Will says “I really love being on the committee. The people are absolutely wonderful.” Will is also a voluntary peer consultant at Services for Independent Living in Euclid. Here, Will listens to those with disabilities who are going through personal struggles in their lives. He is then able to offer up advice as a peer who may have faced similar struggles in his own life.

 

The End of Another WOOO-onderful Summer!

By: Ingrid Wagner, YC Intern

Another full and monumental summer at Youth Challenge has come to an end! This season was packed with tons of fun, excitement, and adventures.  To begin, several YC athletes traveled to Chicago to compete in the Great Lakes Adapted Sports Association Regional Games. They were able to bring home some first place ribbons along with plenty of memorable stories.

11-Group
YC athletes gather for their trip to the GLASA games in Chicago.

The summer party really fired up at Prom, which was run by the Volunteer Committee. They did a fabulous job hosting the event and it is always nice to see everyone dressed up. Of course the formal attire didn’t last for long—West Side Sports, East Side Sports, and Krazy Kamp all started up the following week and continued through the rest of the summer.  Bright and early, the participants were ready to bring their A-game in team cheers and adapted sports. Although there were many cool summer days, that didn’t stop the kids from enjoying an afternoon of splashing around in the pool.

East Side Sports & Swim
East Side Sports & Swim

The annual Overnight took place at Highbrook Lodge at the end of June. Participants and volunteers love to take a break away from home and hang out with the YC Gang.  On July 22, YC participants celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act at Wade Oval. Volunteers, staff members, and participants came together to educate, advocate, and celebrate a day that changed all of their lives forever. The following evening was the annual Regatta Alumni Party at the Edgewater Yacht Club. Being able to catch up with old friends, turn the staff members into human sundaes, and take a sailboat ride on Lake Erie is always YC favorite.

Regatta at Edgewater Yacht  Club
Regatta at Edgewater Yacht Club

The Summer’s End Bash took place on Saturday, August 8th, a bittersweet party for everyone. Unfortunately, YC had to give heartfelt goodbyes Ashley and Andrea as they take their next steps to graduate school this fall. Many other volunteers and participants are heading off to college. Those signing up for programs in the fall are turning to social media to keep in touch with YC alum.

I personally was able to prove that YC friends are never far with the technology we have today. I reached out to several volunteers and participants and ask them their favorite memories of this YC WOOO-onderful summer!

“My favorite program was the YC Overnight! We were playing spoons with the YC gang and it was amazing!” Andy via Facebook Messenger

“My favorite memory was meeting my friend Sam on his first program (survivor day) and then hanging out at East Side Sports and Swim and the Regatta!” Kendra via iMessage

“My favorite was being Sean’s assistant for Boccia at GLASA in Chicago.” Zac via Instagram Direct Message

“I went on the bus and my favorite driver Jim let me play my music!” Sarah via Facebook Messenger

“My favorite YC summer story is probably just being with everyone at sports and swim because no one is left out and it is so happy and energetic and amazing friendships are made.” Zaria via Instagram Direct Message

Keila and Hannah

“My favorite memory has to be when Keila, who hates taking pictures with anyone finally let me get one with her. It really cheered me up, because this was my last regatta as a participant.” Hannah via Facebook Messenger

“My favorite YC memory is being around my friends and having a great time!” Megan via Facebook Messenger

Reading this, many of you are probably experiencing some summertime sadness, but don’t worry, fall programs start soon enough.  Hang in there YC gang, there are many more unforgettable memories to come! See you all soon!

The Youth Challenge Overnight

48-Overnight-GroupBy: Ingrid Wagner,YC Intern

The Overnight: The event of the year. Everyone and their mom cannot wait for the day of the Overnight to arrive. It is exciting simply because you get to spend a full twenty-four hours with the YC Gang! I know because I have been on an overnight or two myself.

Arriving at Youth Challenge is always riveting. However, arriving at YC to load the vans to go to Highbrook Lodge in Chardon, Ohio took the excitement buzz to a new level. Participants screamed with delight during their car ride and, after a final goodbye from their parents, they met their partner and greeted others with big hugs that said, “I’m so excited to spend the next day with you!”

Once everyone was situated and the vans are packed, it was time to hit the road! Van rides were filled with the hits of the summer and lots of singing and dancing to go along. When we finally arrived and unloaded, the games and fun began!

This year’s weather for the Overnight was very Cleveland-like for late June—cool and rainy. The weather did not keep the YC gang from playing, swimming, or hosting an annual spoons tournament. Although we did not get to have a campfire, s’mores in the microwave were just as good, and the company was still the same. The “campfire” was my favorite part of the evening. It gave everyone time to relax while catching up and having fun before bed. During this time, I was able to talk to a lot of participants and volunteers and ask them about why the Overnight is so important to them.

30-Ingrid, Kendra, Maddie, Julia, Colton, Elyse, Zach

For many participants, it is their only night of the year away from home. They get a break from parents and siblings, and they get to enjoy spending time with their YC family. For a couple of the participants, it was their first night ever away from home. Although they were nervous, they were extremely excited and comfortable to be with their YC friends. This first overnight experience was also a test—would they feel comfortable enough to do an overnight camp for a week? Other participants have been attending the overnight for years. For one participant, it was her last overnight before she went off to school in the fall. Although this was very bittersweet for her, she was so grateful for all the overnights she has had with her YC support system.

For volunteers, the Overnight also provides a great time away from home, but it provides so much more than that. For first time volunteers, the Overnight promotes awareness. It allows volunteers to see what it is really like to live alongside someone with a disability. Volunteers really begin to appreciate all the events, time, and dedication YC staff and families give to the participants. For veteran volunteers like me, the overnight allows us to find a leadership role. We have been on the overnight before, and new volunteers and participants can find comfort in a familiar face and a friend. Overall, it is in the volunteers’ best interest to work together to give each participant a great 24 hours away from home!

When we arrived back at YC on Tuesday at one, the overnight simply did not end. The laughs, conversations, and fun are remembered and cherished for years and years to come.

It’s in the Genes

Former YC Volunteer Sharon Douglas with daughter Zoe, a current volunteer.
Former YC Volunteer Sharon Douglas with daughter Zoe, a current volunteer.
When Sharon Douglas walked into her first volunteer session with West Shore Challenge of Fairview Park in 1984, she did not realize she had begun what would become a family legacy. Making the choice to volunteer came naturally for her since both of her brothers had been born with a physical disability called Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy. While working with the program, Sharon saw firsthand how the sports and activities not only enriched her brothers’ lives, but that of family members as well. “Volunteering became a large part of my life,” Sharon said remembering her teen years. She added that she formed close friendships with other program youth and volunteers because they had a common bond. “It was nice to meet families and siblings with the same issues,” she added.

Fast forward to 2015. Sharon’s daughter Zoe, a sophmore at Rocky River High School, has volunteered for the organization since Spring 2013.  Even though she has earned two varsity letters on the tennis team and is a member of ESU “Exceptional Students Unlimited,” High Adventure Girl Scouts, and participates in her church youth group, Zoe takes volunteering at YC in stride. YC provides schedule flexibility to let her help with activities when she has time. Right now, that is a few days a month. She also serves on the YC volunteer committee. Becoming a volunteer was easy according to Zoe. A two hour training session taught her how to help participants adapt their skills to activities. She also spent time shadowing others helping out. Recently, Zoe was recognized for the more than 160 hours she has spent helping with tennis, bowling, swimming and summer outdoor activities as well as arts and crafts. “Volunteering has opened my mind to see what others deal with when they work to overcome their disabilities. I enjoy the program and am proud of the difference it makes,” Zoe said. She added, “The volunteering takes you out of your comfort zone. But it makes you realize how fortunate you are to have abilities. The kids are nice to get to know and you are able to put a smile on their face by providing them a social opportunity that they would not otherwise experience.”

Sharon with daughter Lucy at the YC Superhero Dash.
Sharon with daughter Lucy at the YC Superhero Dash.

Sharon said she is happy to see the program has evolved over the years. Better care, more specialized equipment and opportunities have enabled participants to live longer. And she is proud of the fact the program is serving a larger area since it expanded to the East side in 2013. As the conversation with the two ends, Sharon’s 8-year-old daughter, Lucy, who is listening chimes in, “When I am older, I am going to volunteer too!” Youth Challenge has more than 400 volunteers and is anxious to add you to the list. To find out more about YC and how you can become involved, check out our links on the left.

Alumni Spotlight: Jen Taggart

Jen at YCYouth Challenge is doing more than helping young people play sports and recreation, it’s changing lives.

I have a mild type of cerebral palsy, and have been a part of Youth Challenge since elementary school. I’ve made a lot of memories at Youth Challenge and have gotten the chance to try many activities that I otherwise been able to try, like skiing, ice skating, and sail boating.

When I attended Youth Challenge programs as a child, I never felt like the special needs kid who required extra attention like I sometimes felt during gym class and other community activities. I am blessed to have a fairly mild disability, so all of the programs were already designed for me to do without much trouble.

It’s hard to believe that I am no longer the 10 year old girl riding the van to West Side Sports. I just finished my freshman year at Cedarville University as a journalism major, and am looking into using my writing skills to help others. I’ve considered being a part of a communications department at a non-profit organization like Youth Challenge.

When I’m at college, I feel blessed to have a network of friends who are just a Facebook chat away who understand the specific struggles that come with living with a disability.

If I went to a school closer to Northeast Ohio, I would take more advantage of the YELP programs. I attended the College Q&A night when I was a junior in high school, and my parents and I learned from YC alumni what it’s like living with a disability at college and how to obtain accommodations. I believe that YELP program is a great way to help older members of the YC family prepare for young adulthood. I hope that I am able to attend another YELP program during the next few years.

When I come to Youth Challenge programs, I know that people don’t see me for my limp or bent right hand, but for who I am as a person. I believe that no matter what kind of a disability a person has, it should never define that person. One of the things I hope to do through my writing career is show that disabled people are people first and the same as everyone else.