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By Daniel J. Vance

I often get my best tips from newspaper editors: Paula Franke of the Lewis County Herald in Kentucky sent this one.

She told me about Mandy Crawford and Jackie Martin, who are occupational therapists in Ashland, Kentucky, working with special needs children inside their homes. While doing it, the two learned early on that their surrounding communities had few places available for parents to take their children with special needs to play.

“Then one day Jackie and I took a wheelchair-using child with cerebral palsy, a girl name Beth, out to eat and to see a movie,” said Crawford in a telephone interview. “At the restaurant, Beth had to go to the restroom. It took Jackie and I about twenty minutes to help Beth get in and out of it. It wasn't accessible. For one thing, we had to move a garbage can out to get the wheelchair in.”

That was the day they fully realized the difficulties parents of children with disabilities face daily, and why many of these parents seldom take their children out in public.

“So we decided to do something about it,” said Crawford.

They created the I Believe Foundation in their city of 21,000 bordering both Ohio and West Virginia. The three-state area there has about 8,500 children with disabilities.

“We do parades that involve children with disabilities, have tumbling for children, do clinics in the park, and have organized sports including a 'challenged' soccer league,” said Crawford.

Currently, the group rents space, but the ultimate goal is to build an accessible indoor facility with a barrier-free environment for children with disabilities to play. This facility would serve, among others, blind and deaf children, children with autism, and children using wheelchairs.

Said Crawford, “Our children already want to know when the building will be constructed and opening. They are excited. The community supports it, but there is no model to follow. So you have to explain the need so people can grasp it.”

Crawford mentioned a girl with cerebral palsy. “At the end of our soccer league, every child got a trophy. This girl walked up to me to say, 'Miss Mandy, I'm a champion, aren't I?' And her mother told me it feels awesome when she can tell her family that they are going to a soccer game, and are doing something other families do.”

For more, see danieljvance.com or www.ibelievefoundation.org [This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com]