After school was out for the summer, Presha Delaney, 15, found herself with few friends with which to socialize with.
Delaney, who is disabled, said once the school year ended, she would spend the entire day watching television. Outside school, social outlets for young adults with physical disabilities are hard to come by, said Delaney.
Rockdale County Parks and Recreation's division of therapeutic recreation services has set out to change this. ASPIRE (All Special People Involved in Recreational Experiences), now in its fifth year, promotes people with disabilities in the leisure facet of mainstream life.
"There are programs to help disabled people get jobs and housing, but not very many offering leisure opportunities," said Tom McPike, manager of therapeutic recreation services for Rockdale County Parks and Recreation.
Through a partnership with the Rockdale County School System and other special needs programs such as Special Olympics Georgia and Rockdale CARES (an organization dedicated to bettering the quality of life for mentally challenged Rockdale citizens), ASPIRE offers year-round social and recreational activities for special people who represent a myriad of physical and mental disabilities.
Different disabilities require different accommodations, but camp counselor Cecelia Hart says they can adapt.
Ashley Jones, 17, enjoys painting and playing floor hockey. Jones also has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair.
"Dealing with all of the different disabilities is a challenge - but that's any job. People are different and you learn to deal," said Hart, who also serves as Special Olympics chair.
ASPIRE offers disabled youth the opportunity to play team sports that afford those with mobility limitations to experience the joys and benefits of a team sport.
"I always emphasize that a lot of times people with disabilities limitations aren't due to their disability but their lack of opportunity," said McPike.
The program offers an array of sports from low-impact basketball, swimming, and even golf as well as wheelchair-adapted sports such as floor hockey, tennis and soccer. Every week the group picks a different sport to play and at the end of the week, they compete. Sometimes some of the players compete in state competitions for people with disabilities.
But sports are just a portion of the program. The group goes on cultural excursions to places such as the Fox Theater, restaurants, sporting events and the movies to enhance social skills. The group will even go on a five-day trip to Disney World later this summer.
McPike and Hart said working with people with all forms of disabilities is a challenge but not nearly as much as pooling together a steady stream of volunteers, participants and exposure.
Said Hart, "Be aware of what is in your community and help when you can. Time, money, a kind word and suggestions are all good ways to get involved."
"I like my job because everyday I get to discover people's talents and abilities. I like advocating for people who are often underestimated or ignored," said McPike.
The program runs off donations and an enrollment fee. Those interested in participating or volunteering with ASPIRE can view the calendar of events on the Department of Recreation's Web site, www.rockdalecounty.org.
"All we require is the ability to have fun," said McPike.
For more information about ASPIRE, contact Tom McPike at 770-278-7249 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.