The free program is held at the Mullica Hill Branch Library two Saturdays a month from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. The next occurrence is scheduled for Aug. 24. Children of all abilities, ages 2 to 7, are welcome to participate and must be accompanied by a guardian and wear athletic shoes. Register at www.GCLS.org.
Young Athletes Director Andrea Moore said the goal of the program is to provide a stepping stone into the Special Olympics program, and to help kids build motor, social, emotional and learning skills.
Moore added it’s common for kids to enter in the larger organization when they reach 8, the minimum age of participation, and compete in the 24 sports offered throughout the year.
“The skills in Young Athletes include foundational skills such as walking and running, balance and jumping, trapping and catching, throwing, striking and kicking,” she said. The children also learn how to share, take turns, appreciate their teammates and more.
Coaches will often have different activities or games the children can participate in with their guardians.
The 15-year-old inclusive program gives families a chance to “be a part of a bigger community” as well.
“Having it at a library will have children and parents learn about what the library has to offer for their children,” Moore said. “It also allows for them to see a glimpse of hope in sports for kids with a disability and that they can play with them as well.”
While the Special Olympics of New Jersey has a focus on kids living with a disability, it accepts all kids so others are also taught acceptance and understanding of people who may be different from them.
At the library, Moore estimated roughly 15 kids participate in the program, providing for a diverse group of families to interact with one another.
She added the program stays successful with the help of volunteer coaches who create the intricate activities and games.
“They’re people who give their time to learn about the program and to teach it each week,” Moore said. “Coach Jen puts a lot of love and attention into what she does.”
Those wishing to volunteer or bring the program into their own homes can visit www.SONJ.org.
“The idea was to create a program where parents could feel comfortable playing with their children outside of the medical field,” Moore said. “Simply play with a purpose.”