A CITIZENS' INITIATIVE FOR LIFELONG HEALTH LITERACY THROUGH EQUAL ACCESS
IMPROVING CHILD AND FAMILY WELLNESS
VIA A SCHOOL-BASED INTERDISCIPLINARY MULTIMEDIA INTERVENTION
KCHFF is a group of families, like those we serve, with an intense drive to bring lifelong family wellness to everyone who lives in Kentucky. We come from diverse backgrounds, meeting on common bloody ground: an exigent healthcare crisis. The litany of statistics is massive and never-ending and threatens any positive force. But we are stronger, because we are the people.
KCHFF was started by a Kentucky mom, Jan Winter. For more than 25 years, Jan has been on the front line, causing important social change, in public education, in rights for the disabled and now, in family health care.
She has witnessed first-hand the rapid progress on a social issue that can be achieved when the issue is given back to the very people who feel the impact of the problem.
In 1995, she helped start a soccer program that changed the paradigm of how children with disabilities play youth sports in this country. Through a concept now widely embraced, called "unified" teams, Jan helped evolve an entire nation's attitude toward this segment of the population.
As recently as the 1950s, many believed that children living with disabilities could not participate in youth sports. Then in the 1960s, the Special Olympics proved that they could. But the prevailing belief was still lacking: disabled kids could play sports but they probably should play "over there", by themselves, so they wouldn't get hurt. Now we know that not only do children with disabilities want to play sports and can play sports, they want to play with everyone else. And they can, without getting hurt. Jan and her colleagues knew that if kids of all abilities were combined on a soccer field with no injuries, no other youth sport could use that excuse to exclude disabled players. They formed a new place for everyone to play soccer together - the TOPSoccer team.
TOPSoccer enrolls youth soccer players with any kind of challenge and beginning as early as age 3. Now an official program of U.S. Youth Soccer serving more than 40,000 children with all kinds of disabilities, TOPSoccer went on to explode an even bigger myth, that is still unfortunately prevalent today: most Americans believe that if a kid has a disability and he or she wants to play sports, the opportunity already exists: Special Olympics, right? Wrong. To Play S.O. a child (or adult, as approximately 80 percent of Special Olympians are adults) has to have an intellectual challenge and be at least 8 years old. Millions of kids with all kinds of physical challenges - loss of a limb, deafness, blindness, sickle cell anemia, spina bifada, those undergoing chemotherapy, those using walkers or wheel chairs - but with no intellectual challenge are not eligible to play Special Olympics. In Kentucky, that describes more than half of all kids with disabilities.
TOPSoccer changed all that. TOPSoccer matches kids with all types of challenges and kids without obvious disabilities, as buddies and teammates. The program depends on the innate compassion of children, who are allowed to buddy up and find a way to play together, with limited adult interference. Jan reports that around the world or around the U.S., every time she has asked a young soccer player to help a friend learn to play his favorite game, they somehow find a way. Differences melt away, and what we have in common is what counts: we love playing soccer. Jan likes to say "there are many obstacles in life, but none on a soccer field." Jan's programs have enrolled children with full quadraplegia, children living with AIDS, and homeless children, among thousands of young players.
Jan was the first person to speak at the U.S. Soccer Federation's annual conference on the topic of inclusive soccer. She chaired a multi-national committee that brought the concept to Europe and Australia. She helped several TOPSoccer programs across the nation get started. She enrolled more than a dozen NCAA men's collegiate soccer programs as TOPSoccer buddies and she has raised thousands of dollars over the years to buy equipment and keep program costs low for participating families. Special Olympics USA has now adopted the "unified" approach to many of their team sports and is actively recruiting younger players.
But most importantly, Jan learned a big lesson - we underestimate a lot of kids. Jan believes that all children can and will make good decisions within their intellectual ability, when presented with enough information and support.
It is this sensibility that informs the work of KCHFF. We believe in every child, and we believe we can reach them in a way that taps their natural process, developing in them compassion, a lifelong love of education, a sense of confidence, a desire to be healthy and a determination to make the world a better place when it's their turn.
We are striving for more BIG CULTURAL CHANGE in a short period of time. We need YOUR help. Won't you jon us today?