Larry Chloupek wants to double his workload. Winter is the busiest time of year for the adaptive sports games Chloupek oversees, and he would like it to be even busier.
Chloupek founded the Potomac Adaptive Sports Association (PASA) in 1997, providing exposure to sports for children with special need. “There are very few recreational opportunities for children with special needs,” Chloupek said. “A lot of these children do not get an adequate amount of physical exercise over the course of a week.”
Six years later, PASA is host to weekly games for special needs children, and has a steady crew of high school volunteers, but Chloupek would like to double the program, and believes there are more children who would benefit.
“The biggest thing is that we’d still like to have more kids,” he said. “I’d love to have two sessions, if the numbers permit us to do that. … We feel we have not truly tapped this population.”
PASA meets weekly on Sunday mornings at the Potomac Community Center. Through the fall and winter seasons, PASA ordinarily runs indoor soccer and basketball games, then holds T-ball games during the spring. It is the winter season when the most participants arrive, Chloupek said. “At the end [of the school year], we throw the kids a pizza party and have a trophy ceremony,” said Tim Gallant, a senior at Magruder High School, who has volunteered with PASA for two years.
JORDAN SILL BEGAN volunteering with PASA. He has since started it as a student club at Churchill, where Sill is now a senior. Sponsored by social studies teacher Rodney Van Tassell, the Adaptive Sports Club (ASC) now has 20 regular volunteers, and Sill is co-president along with senior Brad Engel.. Last year, ASC raised nearly $1,000 through a cookie dough sale. The proceeds helped purchase new basketballs, soccer balls and lower basketball hoops.
“I liked athletics, and I thought I could be athletic and help the community at the same time [but] I guess I expected it not to be any fun for me,” said Sill. “I didn’t expect that I could connect with any of the kids.”
Gallant’s goal while volunteering is to encourage the children to “not let their disabilities hold them back.”
Sill and Gallant both say it’s difficult to wake up early on a Sunday, but once they arrive at the community center, the morning goes by quickly.
“When you volunteer with them, you can see the smiles on their faces and tell that they’re really happy,” said Sill. Since he started ASC, he has seen a 10-year-old named Marissa, grow to cherish each Sunday.
“The first time she met me she told me I suck,” recalled Sill, who was demonstrating how to shoot in basketball and bricked his shot. “Every time I screw up with her, I am sure I do something twice as good to get on her good side.”
“AT FIRST, THEY’RE NOT always sure about the program,” Gallant said, but the participating children benefit from outgoing volunteers. “They grow socially, and maybe get a little exercise also. … After they do something good, like make a basket or score a goal, they’ll come up and hug you.”
Chloupek has seen participants of many different ability levels. “For the most part, you make baby steps,” he said. “Kids have come in with no knowledge of what soccer is about. … By the end of the season, they are a lot more comfortable with that kind of skill.”
When speaking to new ASC members, Sill acknowledges that many of them may not think they are going to enjoy what’s in store for them. He is confident that they will have a change of heart quickly. “You’ll like this even more than Saturday morning, when you can sleep in,” he tells the new charges. “You’ll learn how lucky you are, and how good it feels to help these kids.”
CHLOUPEK ALSO SERVES on the board of directors for Special Love, a nonprofit organization for children and young adults with cancer. Founded by Tom and Sheila Baker in 1982, the organization began as Camp Fantastic, a one-week summer camp. Special Love has grown to include a calendar of activities throughout the year for cancer patients and their family members.
Camp Fantastic remains the signature program, a traditional summer camp for 100 campers ages 7-17 in Front Royal, Va. “Camp was a time to be a child not a patient,” said Jeff Quelet, 29, who attended the first-ever Camp Fantastic in 1982.
“The tendency is to think it’s depressing, with kids moping around, but it’s the exact opposite,” said David Smith, executive director of Special Love. “Our focus is on fun. It may not be unique, but it is very refreshing. … The medical staff fades into the background whenever possible.”
It makes a tremendous difference when child who has had cancer or had his mobility impaired may discover that he can reach the top of the climbing wall or paddle a canoe, said Smith. Campers often return home with an expanded sense of what they are able to accomplish.
SMITH WAS A counselor at the 4-H camp that hosted Camp Fantastic in 1983. He has remained with Special Love ever since, now serving as its executive director.
Special Love had grown to include programs for the families of children of cancer. Several of the programs, BRASS Camp and BRASS weekend, are offered for children whose sibling have cancer. “It’s a way of recognizing that siblings are important,” Smith said. “It also contains an element of pyscho-social support. … If nothing else, [siblings suffer from] being second-fiddle all the time.”
An annual dance benefit in Gaithersburg recently raised $19,000 for Special Love, but that is a lower number than the amount raised in the previous year. “It really was not the kindest year, as was the case with other nonprofits,” Chloupek said.
Among new projects Special Love is launching are a pilot retreat program for parents of children with cancer. Another is a winter program that teaches children to ski. Special Love has been able to begin both endeavors, but with difficulty under current budget restrictions, Smith said.
The Potoamac Adaptive Sports Association (PASA) welcomes volunteers and donations, but is also looking for more members. PASA is an organization that provides opportunities for children ages 6-14 with special needs to be exposed to sports, especially soccer and basketball, on a non-competitive basis. PASA meets weekly during the school year on Sundays at the Potomac Community Center. Contact Larry Chloupek at 301-469-6514.
To contribute to PASA, make checks payable to “Potomac Adaptive Sports Association,” and mail to PASA, Potomac Community Center, 11315 Falls Rd., Potomac, MD 20854.
Special Love is a nonprofit organization that provides cancer families a network of support, made up of other patients and families who know and understand the trials and triumphs of the cancer experience.
For more information on Special Love, call 1-888-930-2707, visit www.speciallove.org or write to Special Love, Inc., 117 Youth Development Court, Winchester, VA 22602.
SPECIAL LOVE EVENTS
* Camp Fantastic — A summer camp in Front Royal, Va., offering traditional summer camp activities for more than 100 children ages 7-17 who have been treated for cancer in the past three years.
* Young Adults with Cancer (YAC) Weekend — A beach weekend for current and former cancer patients 18-25 years old.
* Fantastic Friends Weekend — Summer outing for teenage cancer patients and their best friends.
* BRASS Camp and BRASS Weekend — Summer and fall events for children ages 7-14 who are siblings of cancer patients.
* Family Weekends — Seven weekends for the families of children with cancer or HIV, ranging from a ski weekend to a parents getaway weekend to an Under-7 Weekend for families of cancer patients under 7 years old.
* Scholarships — Special Love offers scholarships of $1000 to more than 30 young adults with cancer.