In 2001 providing disabled children with the opportunity to play recreational sports was our one and only goal; but, over the last decade the sports and social programs eventually became a backdrop upon which we created a broad spectrum of more basic and meaningful goals.
A 15 year process of maturation has taken place. Some of the changes were an intentional series of selections and choices. Some of the changes were the result of greater awareness of the unmet needs that surrounded us. And finally, some of the changes were the result of simply seeing and enhancing positive unintended consequences that were there all along. What happened may have been unintended but it wasn’t accidental. Our intuitively accurate responses demonstrated how precisely our core values overlaid our goals.
Today there are two fundamental building blocks that define the Miracle League: Coping Skills and Integration. Coping skills are the tools that we all need to make it through the day. The world is a rough and tumble place and without coping skills a person’s quality of life is greatly diminished. Typical children develop the skills as a natural consequence of their growth and development. Some have greater skills than others and the skill level is reflected in that person’s confidence, vision of their future and eventual success or failure.
Children with disabilities are often sheltered from the world by loving but over protective parents and denied exposure to the world by the physical and social infrastructure created by our community. They live in a cocoon with an inner and outer wall. The inner wall keeps the child from reaching out and touching the world and the outer wall keeps the world from reaching in and touching the child. There is little opportunity to develop coping skills. Properly constructed sports and social environments can present appropriate challenges to children with disabilities and may be one of their primary opportunities to develop coping skills.
Integration into the community definitely requires coping skills. The disabled individual must be “ready” to engage the community. For a variety of reasons disabled individuals may have minimal or undeveloped social skills. Social skills are after all a form of coping skills and they require practice. The Miracle League creates supportive environments where these skills can be nurtured and developed. Moreover, the community must be prepared to appropriately engage (Integrate) people with disabilities. Again, creating the proper environment to bring the individuals together takes careful planning and mentoring. Members of the community that have little exposure to people with disabilities tend to focus on the outward manifestations of the disability and define the individual by the obvious differences. It takes time and mentoring before the differences fade into the background and the able bodied person starts to see the unique individual before them. Both sides must attain a certain “comfort level” before integration is possible. Coping Skills and Integration become complementary to one another. They feed on one another and they build on one another.
Nine years ago we started working with disadvantaged children living in high risk environments. Again it was an issue of coping skills. They have coping skills appropriate to their environment but those skills are totally inappropriate when taken out of that context. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we developed programs that effectively supplement inner city programs dealing with that very same issue. (City of Refuge / Cool Girls / Jars of Clay/ Police Athletic League). Think booster rocket for partner agencies.
The Miracle League’s No Limits Outdoor Challenge is an excellent example of the synergy created by the strategic partnerships. We take the at risk children into a totally new environment, a beautiful 27 acre camp on the shores of Lake Oconee. It’s a radical shift in culture and challenges than they encounter in their neighborhood Recreation Center. For the entirety of their camp experience they work with elite athletes and successful business leaders that, years ago, were themselves at risk children. These men and women understand what it takes to attain escape velocity and are willing to share the gift of time with the next generation.
Over the last decade we have acquired a vast data base of information and resources, including health care providers, therapists, social workers, special education professionals, lawyers, accountants and parent advocates. We can apply these resources on a macro or micro level. At the macro level we work on public policy within municipalities and counties across the Metro Atlanta area. At the macro level our various sports and social programs serve up to 500 families that include at least one member with a disability. At the micro level we work with individual families bringing to bear the resources appropriate to their particular issue. Our body of work speaks for itself; however, others have taken notice of our success. Six years ago the National League of Cities (18,000 Cities and Towns) presented the Miracle League with the Howland Gold Medal Award. The citation included the words:
ONE OF THE NATION’S MOST INNOVATIVE AND EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS ENRICHING THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY.
John P McLaughlin