Courage Center 2

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On March 12th I volunteered at a wheelchair basketball tournament put on by the Courage Center at Irondale high school. During the tournament I assisted in the registration process and operated the shot clock for a game. While operating the shot clock I was able to watch my first wheelchair basketball game and it was nothing like I expected. I expected a slower paced, low scoring game, with people going down the court with the ball in their lap. What I saw was a highly competitive, intense game with people speeding up and down the court and wheelchairs crashing in to each other. My biggest surprise came when one of the athletes was knocked over, wheelchair on its side and all, and he was able to pop back up by situating his knees underneath him, then pushing off the ground like he was doing a push-up, flipping the chair over the footrest and back to normal; then, continuing right on playing. The ability in which they were able to maneuver the wheelchairs, spinning them around on a dime and changing direction, was incredible to me. The experience has made wonder why there isn't more media coverage of the sport. All major sports in America are fueled by the media who constantly run stories on athletes who display superior athletic ability. However, people who play an entire game of basketball using their arms to propel themselves down the court and still have the energy to make basket after basket don't receive any attention. I would like to see Kobe or Lebron James try pushing themselves up and down the court over and over then try to make a shot from a seated position. But I digress. The real issue is that people with disabilities are marginalized in society and therefore are also marginalized in sports. Disabilities make people uncomfortable so they tend to ignore or try to avoid these amazing athletes. Society defines them first as people with disabilities, then as athletes but if they watched a game of wheelchair basketball they would see the immense skill and abilities that these athletes have.

- Nick Boreen

Courage Center 2

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Courage Center

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For my community service learning experience I am volunteering at the Courage Center. The Courage Center is an organization that offers rehabilitation services to people with physical and mental disabilities. During my time volunteering there I will be working with the Sports and recreation department who offer a wide array of adapted sport such as wheel chair basketball, power soccer, and adapted ski/snowboarding. On February 18th I helped out at their annual fundraiser "Moonlight Madness" at Trollhaugen Ski Resort. The goal of the fundraiser was to raise money for their adapted ski and snowboard program which offers adapted equipment, instructors, and ski-buddies to help people with physical disabilities and vision impairments learn to ski. At the event I helped in setup duties such as putting up fences, sprinkling sand on the ice to prevent slipping, and setting up registration tables. During the event, which featured live music (Trampled by Turtles was the headliner), hut tubs, and games, I helped with directing traffic to the event parking lot. Overall it was a good experience; I met some of the key people who organize such events, and had a fun time helping out with some cool people. I'm excited for the next time I help out.
-Nick Boreen

Finishing my CSL opportunity at Homework "n" Hoops (HnH) tonight I have learned a lot in interacting with this program. This was an incredible opportunity and it was awesome to give back to the community and impact the lives of youth positively as a gym leader.
Throughout my experience with the program there were a lot of connections that I made to the class material. The first observation being on how HnH was a non-profit organization and therefore was left out of the organized sport and privatization of sport movement that has been happening in our country. This was shown in the lack of materials due to the program being free. All of the gym items fit into a 6*4*3 ft box and was mainly filled with an assortment of balls, plus the gym space was not very big. This led to limitation in what activities could be done in gym.
However the activities that were done were typically more unstructured ones and more participation and enjoyment was found through these unstructured ones rather than more structured ones like soccer. For instance just tonight in Steal the bone, I think we had the highest attendance yet in kids, and female youth attendees. When some of the more regular attendees asked to switch to soccer after a while the majority of the kids rejected the idea and wanted to keep playing Steal the Bone. It's clear the less structured an activity is the more control youth feel that they have, and the more they enjoy the sport or physical activity.
Another huge observation was the importance of gender in participation in gym time in HnH. Most of the time it ended up being mostly males in the gym. The gender chapter relates that sports are typically male centered, identified, and dominated. In these respects the males often feel that they have a priority in sport and eventually females become invaders if they do participate. In an odd back and forth way, the girls don't participate and gain new skills and interests in sport, and then because their interests and skills are limited they don't have opportunities to participate at all. I feel this is may have been what happened for a lot of the female youth at HnH as they would either visit the game room or do science projects instead of coming and visiting me in the gym.
More incredible was the reaction of the women who did come to gym, they eventually adapted to the play of the boys in becoming more aggressive and showing that they had the "guts" to participate too. Steal the bone today had probably the most girls attendance I have seen in gym time yet and after a few rounds they eventually became as aggressive, if not more aggressive then the boys were at the beginning of play. The game continued to escalate until we had a kid get run over b y a mentor.
Racial influences also were shown greatly by the lack of Caucasian participants in HnH. I feel that the combination of race and social class shows that maybe the minorities need a program like HnH that is free, while their white counterparts have more opportunities in privatized sports. Getting to meet a lot of the families through family fun night a couple of weeks ago showed that in most of the families the kids become the translators to talk to adults as the parents can't speak English well.
Overall there were even more connections to class material but these seemed to be a main few. Over my time with this program I was reminded a lot of a similar program that I participated in my youth. Though it was not free and had employees there were many similarities in the autonomy aspect and children getting to choose where they go. I feel that HnH could develop a lot more into something like that but as it is not as functional as it could be. The main focus is on the development of the kids and I feel that physical activity in gym time can help with this development even more. Yet with the autonomy of the youth in choosing what they do, they are able to comply with typical ideologies that are in the world, rather than break them through possibly mandatory physical activity time. As it is gym time was actually cancelled for two weeks (limiting hours to volunteer) showing the true importance of physical activity to the program. True the program focuses much more on the homework then the hoops portion of the program and only 30 min is delegated to leisure time, and I know that the program is trying to get minorities out of the thinking that they can't go anywhere academically in life, but I feel the program still has a lot of growing to do to really make an impact in the futures of these youth.
It was very interesting to have my eyes opened to many happenings of the social world through this class and then to see them in action in a setting that I would normally not encounter. I feel that this CSL definitely enhanced my learning of the material.

Nick Manning

HnH Part II

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I just wrapped up my CSL experience as a Homework 'n' Hoops gym leader last night. I think overall it was a positive experience, and actually a relaxing get-away from my engineering coursework.

I made two main observations that connected to the class material. First, the demographics of the students. Most of the mentors were Caucasian and all of the students were either Hispanic or African-American. HnH targets a low income demographic, and I think the fact that every student there is a minority shows how much work we have to do in this country to achieve racial equality in society, and the same is true in sports, as evidenced by the huge disparity between races when it comes to leadership positions. Yes, racial equality has come a long way the past 40 years, but there's a long way to go yet.

The second observation was that students really enjoy unstructured games more than rule-heavy ones. My first day as gym leader came shortly after reading the youth sports chapter in our textbook. The chapter stresses that youth sports that have a strong parent influence and a lot of rules are not the most positive or fun experiences for children, so I tried gearing my gym time away from being really rule-heavy and more just letting the kids have fun. I could definitely see the children reacting to this. As long as there was some semblance of order in the game, the kids obviously preferred being left alone instead of having to follow tons of rules meant for the adult version of the game they were playing.

Overall, I enjoyed going to HnH every week (outside of the commute time) and think it was a valuable connection to the class.

Hi Everyone - I was having trouble getting my second post up here due to browser issues, but hopefully it stays this time!

As I explained through my first post, I spent my CSL engagement at Homework n' Hoops, and afterschool program near Uptown. At first, I enjoyed going because simply because it was rewarding to help the kids and know that I was making a difference in my mentee (Denisha)'s life. However, as the semester progressed, my Monday afternoons because much more than a chance to give back to the community - they became huge learning experiences and a chance for not only Denisha, but importantly myself, to personally develop.

The most significant thing that I learned throughout the semester is how to communicate effectively with someone in a younger generation. I think that a major problem in today's world is that adults become frustrated with children, and vice-versa, because they do not know how to explain their thoughts in the clearest manner. While mentoring Denisha through her math, homework, and other learning activities, I really came to understand what teaching methods worked, and which did not. The other important thing to remember is that every child learns differently. We sat a table with three other groups of mentor/mentees and I could really notice differences in learning styles. Denisha is quite smart in math compared with others in her grade level, so it was best if she tried the problems first alone and then work through the ones that she was struggling with. She liked that independence to do what she could by herself first. And this is important to remember. Often we are quick to jump to help others, but in many cases, they want to try it by themselves first - and they are often times very capable of doing that. I think that one of the problems in our society is that adults do not realize the full potential of a child. They are so capable!!! Denisha would teach me things every week - whether it was a random fact that she learned at school or simply an observation that appeared simple in her mind, but to me it was a profound reflection on some aspect of life.

Throughout the semester, I also was reminded of how amazing my upbringing was. I take so many things for granted, including my education. Spending time with these children made me realize how important it is to have a strong support system during youth development. My parents always helped me improve in school and challenged me continuously - they were always a resource that I could go to if I had questions with homework. On the other hand, many of the children at Homework n' Hoops do not have that strong support system. I know that Denisha's parents work a lot and are not always home at night. Sometimes she would go home with her sister and nephew so she was not always in the same house for the evening. This in itself makes it difficult to get into a routine with homework. That is why our time together at H n' H was so beneficial - we were able to work through her more difficult homework that she wouldn't have the same support and/or motivation to do it later.

Another thing that I really valued with the H n' H program was their emphasis on goal-setting. I am not sure when I first learned about the importance of setting goals, but it most likely came through one of my organized sports. It is really great that these youth are learning how to set goals so young and are rewarded (with goal certificates) for progress towards their goals. Many of the children do not have the opportunity to participate in organized sports where they may learn about goals, so this is another great venue in which they can do so. Denisha took her goals seriously and it was a very special day when she received a goal certificate!

All in all, I feel that H n' H is a good program for these children to partake in after school. I wish that the physical activity component was emphasized more greatly - they would demonstrate eating healthy through the healthy snacks everyday and kids always had the option to go to recreation time, but some of the children never went. I never actually went to the gym during recreation time because Denisha would usually choose the craft project, or else the game room. Nevertheless, a good program and I am very grateful for the opportunity to spend time there!

We Can Ride

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While originally I planned on volunteering at the Courage Center, a volunteer time never opened which fit into my class/work schedule. Instead, I began volunteering as a Sidewalker with We Can Ride, a therapeutic horseback riding program in St. Paul. Here are a few of my tales of tails...

Seven weeks ago, I watched as Leaders walked rather scruffy horses around a dirt-filled arena. The horses plodded along, appearing rather disinterested in the whole business. While I rode horses a few times many years ago, memories from youth have a way of coloring experiences with an aura of wonder. I remembered tall, gleaming, majestic creatures, whinnying and prancing...a stark contrast to the medium-sized, wooly-wintered-coated animals before me. I would soon learn, however, that these horses, perhaps no longer of show-quality beauty, possessed beauty of heart and temperamant...a beauty perfectly suited to their current service to people with disabilities.
Fifteen minutes before each session, the Sidewalkers (people who walk next to the horses to ensure the riders' safety upon the horse) greet their clients and help them into the arena so they may groom their horses. I examined the client list, and noted the client I was assigned to for each of the three classes which constitute one volunteer session. The client for the first class had a spinal cord injury, the client for the second class had Down Syndrome, and the client for the third class had Autism Spectrum Disorder. I felt comfortable working with people with spinal cord injuries, and have experience working with people with Down Syndrome, but had limited experience working with people with autism. Throughout the first two classes (which went fairly smoothly), my thoughts kept returning to what to expect in the third class. In Psychology, we learned about the wide variety of ability levels encompassing the spectrum of autism...what would the client be like?
Shrill, repetitive jabber filled the arena, interspersed with abrupt shrieks. My client had arrived. She could produce sound, but could not speak. She was mobile, yet could not stop moving. She was focused, but on everything but the lesson plan. I will admit that I was nervous, and doubting of her coherence. I felt grateful for my first two clients, with whom I could easily converse. As I watched my fellow Sidewalkers greet their smiling, mentally engaged clients, I will admit that a slight feeling of jealousy arose. Working with my client with autism, however, turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of volunteering with We Can Ride.
Every week, I could see some improvement in all of the clients, ranging from general comfort on the horse, to better trunk and postural control. My client in the third class, however, improved beyond what I ever could have imagined. She now pats the horse to signal she is ready to go. She will participate in stretches (albeit briefly), and while she still has a tendency towards distraction, she is more often calm and focused on the horse. She also smiles. Beautifully.
Volunteering with We Can Ride has shown me the importance of access to physical activity and socialization, especially for people with disabilities. In our textbook, it discusses the lack of availability of adaptive sports many people face. I have seen the growth and strength which sports such as horseback riding can facilitate (and yes, I do consider horseback riding a sport now. While I previously considered it a more recreational activity, my opinion has now changed after watching the physical skills which horseback riding truly is a flexible social construction.) Unfortunately, the cost of taking classes at We Can Ride can prove prohibitive to those who do have access to the class. This socioeconomic barrier is one which I have seen often in adaptive sport, where costs of specialized equipment and transportation can cause division amongst people with disabilities. I did notice, interestingly, that while adaptive sport may cause a bit of division, it also often affords inclusion of gender. Males and females of a wide variety of ages participate together in the We Can Ride classes. The males don't attempt to be more "macho", and the females don't attempt to ride sidesaddle to demonstrate a female apologetic (however, many of the younger females DO have more decorated riding helmets than the males.) This integration of males and females perhaps demonstrates how disability can overpower the gender divide.
We Can Ride offers wonderful opportunities for people young and old to have an experience which they can share with their peers. Whether a client's goals are of being able to go trail riding with a sibling, of having fodder for lunch table conversation, of strengthening one's core, or of simply having fun, We Can Ride can help those goals to be accomplished.
Ride on!
-Molly Watkins

Hey everyone!
Every week this semester I have been heading down to Loren on Park Ebenezer Senior living home to be a part of their dance class. My experience has been nothing short of amazing. Ever since the first day that I arrived at the class I have enjoyed the next Monday even more than the last. Although Ebenezer advertises itself as "vibrant senior living" really the only part of this that seems true is the "vibrant" part. At least in relation to the people who attended the dance class, they may be old, but they do not act like it.

When I first heard about the position, I was immediately drawn to it because of the dance aspect. My parents were professional ballroom dancers, and I have grown up around that culture. Because of this, over time I became a semi-teacher running lessons to the group each week for about half the class. Over the course of the semester we have covered everything from salsa to waltz. Before teaching the class I thought that teaching elderly people, some of which have detriments to their movement, would be very different to teaching a class to "able-bodied" adults. I thought that because some of them have difficulty walking, they would not enjoy or even want to try. I was completely wrong. In fact compared to other classes that do not involve seniors, the participants in this class were more enthusiastic to learn. I was also wrong about the thought that they would have more difficulty learning the dances than younger, more able bodied people. They caught on extremely quickly. I found that this was mostly due to their extreme interest in learning to dance better. Some of the participants even admitted to practicing all week between our classes! This is extremely important I found because for some of the people in the class this is the only exercise that they get all week.

Throughout the semester we have delved deep into differences and divisions between organized sport and informal sport. It was very interesting to see what happens when you bring together a group of people in which traditional organized sport is no longer an option. They have a completely different mentality than people who have the option of pursuing organized sports. Without competition, the need to win, and negative ideological outposts associated with organized sports present these people pursue a more pure form of sport. In the dance class it became very clear these people only care about bettering themselves through sport and exercise. They participate for the joy of doing it as well as keeping them healthier. When everyone has this mentality there are no barriers to who can participate as well as no differences to how people are viewed. Instead they welcome all differences and ability levels. Although some people in the dance class do have disabilities, they are not treated as a (dis)ability. They are treated just like everyone else and given exactly the same opportunities as everyone else. This is how every aspect of the Ebenezer senior homes is run.

I am glad that I was able to teach the residents at Ebenezer some of my knowledge of ballroom dancing because they have taught me much more than I could ever teach them. I can honestly say that these people have giving me a new way to look at sport and how to approach it. Not only that, but they have taught me lots about life in general. I will miss them all very much and hopefully will see them soon.

Nick McHenry

Hi everyone--it's Melissa! This is my second entry about my experiences at Ebenezer Loren on Park and the amazing dance class that I have been attending. During high school I was presented with many experiences to work with the senior citizen population and found myself attending Thursday morning coffee with "the guys" at one senior living center, spending one-on-one time with some residents of a nearby nursing home and assisting with Wednesday afternoon grocery runs for the assisted living facilities in my hometown. When it came to volunteering, I found myself more drawn towards this demographic and my past experiences definitely influenced my choice to complete my service-learning at the Ebenezer facility.
When I attended my first dance class earlier this semester I was fairly skeptical regarding the "dancing" we would be doing. As someone with very little background in any type of formal dance, I was a little worried that I would be the only one with two left feet and would end up the odd one out. I had always held the belief that the older generations put much more emphasis on organized dance and learning the foxtrot, the waltz and any basic step was as natural as learning how to read or write. Although my previous notions were certainly disproved on the first day, I did learn that dancing meant so much more to these people than I ever could have imagined.
A few weeks ago we were rejoined by a resident, Phyllis, who was out for a short while due to some medical issues. As she informed me today, her 85 year old body is starting to falter but that certainly isn't slowing her down! While I was talking with her about her life she mentioned to me that she danced quite a bit while she was growing up, and she had met her husband while dancing! He was very overweight when she first met him and they began dancing two or three times a week during their courtship. By the time they were engaged, he had lost 100 pounds! Although Phyllis's husband has since passed on, she said that dancing will forever be a special activity for her. The memories that she associates with it and the joy it brings her are simply irreplaceable.
Phyllis is only one of the residents, I have learned, that dancing is really important to. About half-way through our volunteer experience, we were having dance class when a female resident entered the dining room that we transform into a dance floor every Monday. Vicki, our supervisor, was very pleased to see this resident and asked her if she would like to dance with us. After a little convincing, another volunteer jumped right up and danced the next song with this resident. While they were dancing, Vicki watched in awe and whispered to me and the other volunteers that this particular resident was one of the reasons which the dance class was started. She very much enjoyed dancing but in the past year had not often joined the group. Not fully understanding how much the dance class meant to these residents when I first started, I was beginning to realize just how important this Monday ritual was for some of these residents.
In the past few months I have learned a lot from the men and women I spend my Monday afternoons with. Along with learning how to salsa, waltz, swing dance and foxtrot I have learned that sometimes the people with walkers, wheelchairs and physical disabilities can surprise you in ways you never thought possible. Although most people look at the elderly and associate words like "fragile", "slow" and "frail" with them, I have certainly learned that this is not always the case. These people love to dance and to have us there. We laughed with and at each other, joked about tastes in music and never forgot to let each other know how silly we could be. They were more than willing to spend an hour learning new things and simply moving. Not being "able-bodied" never kept them down. Although my last dance class for the year ended today, I am definitely going to miss those Mondays and have already informed the volunteer coordinator that I would love to return in the fall. The experience was certainly amazing and I absolutely loved how much these people brightened my day.

Hi everybody! It's Elaine, writing my second entry about dance class at Ebenezer Loren on Park. Today was our last class. I am quite sad about that. Over the past few months, I have grown to love the crazy awesome fun time that is dance class. The participants have helped me to confront several stereotypes I had about the elderly and people with disabilities. I now know that these groups of people are quite under-served in the areas of sport and exercise. I also know that these groups are perfectly capable of participating, as long as a few modifications are made.
When I first started volunteering with the dance group, I was skeptical about how much dancing we would actually be able to do. I thought that the elderly were all feeble and therefore could not take the rigors of dancing for more than one song, and they could definitely not keep going for an hour. In that situation, I was wrong. We danced for an hour with no breaks at that first class. Much to my surprise, I did not hear anyone complain that the pace was too fast or that the music was too loud. All the residents were having fun and did not worry about how they looked to outsiders. That class was the most fun I had had in quite a long time.
A few weeks after I started volunteering, we started learning choreographed dances, such as salsa and the waltz. I did not think that the participants were capable of learning these dances. My stereotyped views were verified during that first session. The only people dancing were the volunteers. It was not fair; all of the participants got to sit and laugh at us while we made fools of ourselves. The next class was completely different. This time we tried the waltz, a much slower and more graceful dance. All of the elderly and disabled participants were up and attempting to dance. They actually were more adept at waltzing than the volunteers. They literally danced circles around us.
As I stated earlier, I am really going to miss this group. The residents were always so happy to see us at dance. They were sincerely happy that were there to dance with them. They never took us for granted. In class, we talked about how the elderly and people with disabilities are grossly under-served by our current sports systems. Those with power think as I once thought. However, there need to be more opportunities for exercise for this group. Exercise is good for everyone, so why do we only allow those who are "able-bodied" to have access?