Five-year-old Veda Graw feels happy and proud when she walks into a Special Olympics BC – Nanaimo Active Start session.
“She absolutely loves it!” her mother Amanda Davis says. “Whenever we tell her it’s Special O day she gets so excited!”
Veda is participating in her third season of the Active Start program. Davis said developing motor skills has been a challenge for Veda, and the instruction and support she has received in the sessions has been very valuable to her.
In her first session, Veda and the other athletes got to kick balls into a net with help from the program leaders. Veda was delighted that she was able to accomplish this, and Davis says activities like this have helped Veda build her physical skills and learn what she is capable of.
“That’s when I felt really grateful and happy that we found Special Olympics and were able to provide this opportunity for her and open up a world that caters to people of different abilities,” Davis said.
The number of SOBC youth programs continues to grow across the province and current programs are going strong. There are now 115 Active Start, FUNdamentals, and Sport Start programs running in communities around B.C., providing children with intellectual disabilities ages two to 18 with opportunities to develop motor, sport, and social skills in a fun and supportive environment.
Active Start is for athletes between the ages of two and six. Each SOBC – Nanaimo Active Start session focuses on a basic movement skill, such as passing or kicking a ball. During the session, Veda and the other athletes take part in fun activities and games that help them practice the skill. Each class ends with the athletes, program leaders, and caregivers playing with a parachute – something the kids absolutely love.
Veda loves running around and being active in the large gym where the sessions take place. She also loves the support she receives from the fun and friendly program leaders.
Davis says Angelina Passarelli, who leads the sessions, is warm, personable, and cares a lot about the athletes. She says Passarelli believes working with young athletes is a privilege, and is passionate about helping Veda and her friends reach their potential.
“It is really heartwarming and it makes me feel confident and happy.”
Davis and her family appreciate how the Active Start program is a safe, welcoming place where Veda is treated with respect.
“Everyone looks at her as a friend and as an athlete, as an equal and a regular kid.”
Davis says their family plans on continuing with Special Olympics BC youth programs, and when Veda gets older, they look forward to her participating in the SOBC sports that interest her.
“It’s a phenomenal, fantastic organization!” Davis says.
Keiko Kojima Steeves is a program leader with SOBC – Surrey’s FUNdamentals program, which is for athletes between the ages of seven and 11. A continuation of the Active Start program, FUNdamentals transitions from focusing on basic movement skills to basic sports skills. Kojima Steeves says the program breaks skills into small pieces to make them easier to learn. As an example, athletes worked on kicking soccer balls without using their hands for balance, and that developed into the athletes taking turns shooting the ball at a target.
Kojima Steeves says along with being a lot of fun, the sessions are a great opportunity for young athletes to build confidence and self-esteem in a safe, inclusive environment.
“Every week we give them a set of goals and they learn social skills and how to get along with each other. They also learn to trust each other and build relationships.”
Kojima Steeves says it feels really good to see athletes master a skill.
“I am really, really enjoying it right now,” she says. “I feel satisfied every week seeing everyone’s happy faces and seeing everyone gain confidence. As their confidence levels increase, it makes me even happier!”
Crystal Kalas is a program leader with SOBC – Fort St. John’s Active Start program. Kalas has a lot of experience supporting children in her community, and she works at the Fort St. John Child Development Centre where she is the Early Years Centre Coordinator, Aboriginal Engagement Coordinator, and Special Services Supervisor.
She says the Active Start program in her community has helped athletes learn to take direction and build confidence. Kalas says families who have participated in the program have told her that Active Start helped their child successfully transition to preschool.
Kalas said her most memorable moment with the program came when they held an end-of-the-year award ceremony. The young athletes were extremely proud to receive their ribbons, and one athlete sat through the sessions’ welcome circle for the first time, which had previously been a big challenge for him.
SOBC is very grateful to all the amazing volunteers who make our youth programs possible!
Sincere thanks to Goldcorp, the Government of Canada, the Government of British Columbia, Tim Hortons, the Samuel Family Foundation, and The Slaight Family Foundation for their significant support of youth programs and opportunities throughout British Columbia.