In recognition of January as National Mentoring Month, Disabled Sports USA (DS/USA) announces its 2009 National Youth Sports Mentoring Program. Throughout 2009, 21 of DS/USA's chapter organizations will host youth mentoring programs in 13 different states. These chapters have pledged to match more than 200 youth with disabilities with mentors to help them develop their sports abilities and skills they can use in everyday life.
Now in its third year, the program recruits and trains active adults with and without disabilities to mentor youth with disabilities under 18 years of age, encouraging them to become active in sports. Through these activities, youth participants gain self confidence, improve motor skills, become more sociable and learn to set and achieve their goals for improved physical fitness.
"The DS/USA Youth Sports Mentoring Program is a great example of the power of the mentoring relationship to encourage disabled youth to lead a more active life through sports." said DS/USA Executive Director Kirk Bauer, who lost a leg from a hand grenade during an ambush while serving in Vietnam. "With childhood obesity and inactivity rising to epidemic levels, these types of programs are critical to the health of our youth." Bauer added.
DS/USA partners with its 98 local community chapters in 38 states, to develop adaptive sports programs throughout the USA. Over the past three years 33 chapters from 17 states have been trained in the Youth Sports Mentoring Program. More than 20 sports are taught including winter skiing and snowboarding, athletics, cycling, swimming, volleyball, golf, equestrian and others.
The year-long program began with the involvement of nineteen youth participants in the annual The Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colo. who learned to ski and race from mentor members of the US Adaptive Ski Team, the best disabled skiers. Elitsa Storey, a member of the US Paralympic Ski Team, says of twelve year old mentee, Meghan Erickson, an above the knee amputee. "She is an awesome girl; she experienced a lot of breakthroughs, and is going to pursue her dream of being on the USAST. I am so proud of her."
Mentees, like 14-year-old Patrick Ivison, a participant in San Diego Adaptive Sports Foundation's program gain valuable support and guidance from their mentors. Ivison says of his mentor, "His name is Dan McCauley. He has been in a chair for over 20 years and if I have any question on how to do something or adapt it to make it work, he either immediately has an answer or he will find one. He is a great guy and an awesome mentor." Like Dan, Patrick has a spinal cord injury that requires him to use a wheelchair.
The Youth Sports Mentoring Program will also continue to match service members severely wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to mentees. "My role as a DS/USA Mentor at the Endeavor Games gave me a new and inspiring perspective on how I can impact the lives of young people. The relationships the DS/USA Mentoring program will create are going to last and make a positive difference for everyone!" said mentor US Army Captain Leslie N. Smith (retired).
Programs are being held in the following states: Alaska: Challenge Alaska; California: San Diego Adaptive Sports Foundation; Colorado: Adapted Sports Center of Crested Butte, National Sports Center for the Disabled; Illinois: Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association; Maryland: Athletes Serving Athletes; New Hampshire: AbilityPLUS at Attitash, AbilityPLUS at Gunstock, AbilityPLUS at Waterville Valley, Bretton Woods Adaptive, Huggins Hospital Adaptive Sports, Northeast Passage, New England Disabled Sports; New Mexico: Challenge New Mexico; New York: Greek Peak Adaptive Snowsports, STRIDE Inc.; Oklahoma: University of Central Oklahoma Sport Performance; Utah: Common Ground Outdoor Adventures; Virginia: Wintergreen Adaptive Skiing; Vermont: AbilityPLUS at Mount Snow, Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports.
The sponsors of the mentoring program are: The U.S. Department of Education; Daniels Fund; The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation; and Genatt Associates.