Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario
"TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER"
Program pairs disabled and able-bodied kids
By IAN ROBERTSON, SUN MEDIA
WHITBY -- A local arena echoed to happy cries and songs as 1,000 students, half with special needs, spent most of yesterday in special sports and fun events.
The 8- to 21-year-olds were previously paired to participate in the 9th Fitness Friends celebration sponsored by Variety Village and 52 schools throughout Durham Region.
"I think it's fun," said Ian Byberg, 11, teamed at Sir Albert Love
Catholic School for the past two months with Andrew Driscoll, 10.
"This is a great program," schoolmate Jo-Lius Cabogoy, 11, added.
"There's lots of activities."
Grade 5 teammate Corwin Khoe, 11, shyly confided he especially likes
play tag" with his pal after school and at recess.
Students from regional public, high and Catholic schools, who have spent up
to three months together as extra-curricular partners, twisted and shouted in
a warm-up called
"Charlie Brown" at the Iroquois Park Arena before
heading to events in three gyms.
Rotating for the next 31/2 hours, the youngsters threw themselves into events modified by Variety Village. They included basketball hoop-tosses, wheelchair relays, bouncing on floormat trampolines, flinging balls into the air while manipulating parachutes and performing karaoke songs -- sometimes even in tune.
'ALL GET AWARDS'
Linda Fildes, a Pickering High School teacher who once facilitated the annual
event, said its aim is
"inclusion for all students."
By pairing children with disabilities and able-bodied children, she said they learn to share experiences and lead more active lives.
When the Fitness Friends event was first held, only 200 to 300 youngsters were enrolled, Fildes said.
"Open to any student with developmental disabilities," she said participants
get free T-shirts and all get awards.
"Other children are thrilled to help out with special needs kids,"
Sir Albert Love educational assistant Stella Sloan said during a break.
"Everybody has a bridge to cross," she said.
"We have to help
people with their dreams."