Kathy Calhoun has made it a personal mission throughout her life to ensure that her brother, Steve Bennett, who was born with Down syndrome, has the same quality of life that she enjoys.
When she went to college, Calhoun brought him to campus with her, where he participated in a special education class.
And today, she is working to help establish SOAR, a nonprofit that will provide free social and recreational events to developmentally disabled adults in Glynn and McIntosh counties.
“This is a population of adults who cannot jump in the car like we can to go somewhere, to make choices that we’re either going to go out to eat, or we’re going to go play basketball,” Calhoun said. “This population can’t make those independent decisions. There has to be someone, and mostly family, who’s going to provide those opportunities for them.”
SOAR, or Social Opportunities & Active Recreation, was initially created last year to provide a vehicle to employ a Special Olympics program coordinator. But SOAR soon transformed into an organization that could serve a much larger purpose in the community.
“Along the way, we realized that the population that benefits from Special Olympics needs a lot of other things besides athletic opportunities,” said Jane Christian, president of SOAR’s board. “We did some surveys and a study of the community and found that there’s very little in the way of recreational and social opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities.”
To fill this need, SOAR created an adult enrichment program, to go along with its special sports support program.
The special sports support program allows SOAR to employ a part-time activities coordinator for the local Special Olympics program, which reaches more than 400 athletes and provides year-round sports training and competitions in local and state Special Olympics events.
Through the adult enrichment program, SOAR will connect with community partners, such as local businesses, restaurants, civic clubs and churches, that will host recreational events for SOAR’s members.
“This could be like a picnic, a dance,” Christian said. “It could be any type of activity. For example, it could be a monthly game day, like for bingo.”
The partner will be responsible for funding and arranging the logistics of the event. Or the partner can donate to the organization.
“If they’re going to do a picnic, they’d be responsible for planning it and paying for it, and our responsibility would be making sure that folks know about it, that SOAR club members know about it, and that they are attending,” Christian said. “We would be the link between the two, and we have volunteers that will be trained to work with the community partner to make it happen.”
SOAR is currently in the grant-writing and organizing stage, working to secure funding. The nonprofit will sponsor on July 18 to July 22 its inaugural project, an iCan Bike camp, where individuals with disabilities will learn how to ride a bike. SOAR is still looking for volunteers to work at the event.
The organization will soon focus its efforts on finding community partners.
“We haven’t officially begun our recruitment for our community partners. But as we talk with people, there’s been a huge positive response,” Christian said. “People really want to get involved in this kind of thing, and this gives the community a vehicle to be able to get involved, to provide for this segment of our population.”
SOAR has also begun the process of seeking developmentally disabled adults become members by working with the local Special Olympics programs, school systems and providers in the community such as Gateway and Coastal Home Care.
While there are hundreds of people in the community that SOAR will be able to serve, Christian said the nonprofit must grow before it can accommodate the entire local population.
“We’re thinking big, but we’re starting small,” Christian said. “We feel like there’s some potential to serve hundreds.”
The organization aims to provide a club experience for its members, to offer them a chance to socialize with the community.
“I’ve spoken to parents, and they’re so excited about this opportunity,” Christian said. “When we ask them what kinds of things would they like, they said they love to dance, and they love music and they love to eat.”
Calhoun said her brother will be front and center in the SOAR program, as he loves to eat and dance.
“If someone like us doesn’t step up and provide this for them, then they may not have any opportunities to do any of that,” Calhoun said. “This is a population that is in the shadows, and I think part of our goal is to bring them out.”
For more information on how to become a community partner or a SOAR club member, contact Jane Christian at 223-7233.