Monday, October 11, 2010

"Equal, Not Special"

I read in the Lake Charles American Press a week ago about an amazing young woman.  I felt so inspired and so touched by  her story that I wanted to write about it. 

When my sister was around three years old, in 1988, I often dreamed of having her at the dance studio where I took ballet, tap, and jazz dancing.  Or cheering like I did.  Or maybe playing in the band (which I wanted to do but didn't).  But we were lucky to keep her shoes on her feet, get her to sit still during the hymns at church, and not run off down other aisles at the grocery store.  She was born with Down Syndrome, and in the 1980s, they were still telling people that these children would not live to see twelve years old and were not fit to keep at home. They were encouraging people to commit their Downs children to asylums or homes.  Not everywhere or every doctor, of course, but a lot of them, including ours.

We knew a woman who had a Downs daughter a good bit older than my sister who said that she had dreamed of having a daughter to put in beauty pageants and dress up in pretty dresses and put in dance classes. I assume that these types of disappointments (and they are disappointments, no matter how beloved the child is and how irreplaceable; for nine months you dream of what your child will be like and then you have to lose those dreams and find new ones) were easier for my parents, who already had a daughter in beauty pageants and dance classes and all those other types of things people want for their little girls.  But there was no reason these two young ladies could not do those things.  It was the limitations of the parents and, in the case of my sister, of the child's unruly personality.

There was not much for kids in my area.  We had the typical little league, dance classes, piano lessons, and school activities.  Nothing extraordinary or different, not even gymnastics.  There was less for children with exceptional abilities.  An article in the Lake Charles American Press described another young woman who felt deprived by her environment.  Rhonda Guidry, a woman with Down Syndrome, played buddy ball as a teenager, which was one of the few activities for these young people available.  She felt frustrated that there was not more that she could get involved in.  She did something about it.  Thanks to her hard work, her dream has come true for all children with disabilities throughout Louisiana.

Rhonda Guidry runs the Buddy Sports and Arts Program, a non-profit organization that provides ballet, cheerleading, all manner of ball sports, skiing, beauty pageants, and social opportunities for people with exceptional abilities.  The services are free for everyone to participate.  Everyone plays at every game. There are no weeks of practice followed by game after game of sitting the bench.  My son sat the bench in nearly every t-ball game one season because he and his friend were the youngest kids on their team, and therefore the smallest.  And he is not a handicapped child.  Seems to me that regular sports could take a lesson from Buddy Ball and ensure that everyone who comes to play has equal opportunity and equal fun.  Afterall, those boys who played every game on the 5 year old team have no better chance of becoming a New York Yankee than my son does.

Everyone who signs up dances, plays, cheers, participates at every single event.  Everyone wins.  There are no outs, no fouls, no screaming, cursing parents in the stands who take out their own sense of failure on their children.  Hearts are opened, eyes are dampened, laughter rumbles, and memories are made.  Participation for the love of the game is the order of the day.  Activities are adapted to the abilities of each person who participates so that everyone is accomodated.

No one should hide behind embarrassment, shame, or fear.  Safe, enclusive activities for those of us who are least judgmental, most loving, and most appreciative should be supported by everyone.  Dallas Cowboys, LSU Tigers, Saintsations Cheerleaders, and other big-name sports groups recognize this and participate in games and events with the Buddy sports athletes.  If you are interested in the annual Fall Ball fund raising events or in volunteering, the link above will take you to a website.  I also have a phone number on hand if anyone is interested and wants to contact me for it.  Look it up in your state.

We all get involved in our own activities and achievements.  I think we should take time out now and then to celebrate the abilities of others and help provide a lasting joy to people who deserve it.

Kudos to Ms. Guidry who has taken her life and decided to do something exceptional with it!

No comments:

Post a Comment