Together We Play
Kathleen Scholl, University of Northern Iowa
Susie Lund, YMCA of Black Hawk County
Overview of Program
Together We Play (TWP) is an inclusion service housed at the Family YMCA of Black Hawk County that provides capacity-building supports to community recreation, after-school, and church programs to help them welcome people of all abilities into their activities. This northeast Iowa service has had success in increasing the inclusive recreation opportunities for children and youth with disabilities, ages 3 to 21. TWP serves as a liaison between general recreation service providers and parents of children with disabilities.
Since 2001, TWP has partnered with community recreation programs to train and assist staff in including children who have a variety of disabilities. Children have undertaken a variety of community recreation programs, such as summer camp, tee ball, weightlifting, track, karate, taekwondo, swimming lessons, after-school and church activities, gymnastics, art, cooking and acting classes, and Girl Scouts.
Status of Inclusive Recreation in the Program
Community recreation agencies pay a partnership fee for TWP services. TWP’s goal is to increase the effectiveness of these agencies and improve their inclusion practices. This partnership includes an agency assessment, training workshops for staff, assistance in hiring staff, and ongoing consultation concerning site improvement and child-specific program adaptations.
In 2008, TWP became a national affiliate of a San Diego–based organization called Kids Included Together (KIT). KIT is a nonprofit organization that provides best-practices training for community-based youth organizations that are committed to including children with disabilities in their programs. KIT established a National Training Center on Inclusion (NTCI) that offers a variety of training and assistance via the World Wide Web, such as delivering onsite training for recreation staff. The affiliation with KIT has given TWP many opportunities to enhance and improve its inclusion efforts. For more information on KIT, see www.kitonline.org. The director of TWP is now a trainer of KIT’s four training modules.
In the past, inclusion assistance largely consisted of a TWP staff person who traveled to the site of the recreation activity and acted as a leisure companion for a child. Although this benefited the agency using TWP, it did not effectively promote inclusion. TWP’s focus has changed in the past year. The organization will transition from sending leisure companions to agencies to promoting inclusion at each of its partner agencies by teaching strategies for inclusion to partner agency staff, giving them the tools to take ownership and embrace inclusion at their own organization.
I would rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right.
Education Biology and Water Resources, College of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
*University Leadership Award (2006) *Chancellor’s Leadership Award (2007) *Wisconsin Legislative Affairs Director of the Year (2007)
Position Accessibility Coordinator, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Organization The WDNR is a government agency devoted to the management and protection of Wisconsin’s natural resources, including fisheries, wildlife, and public lands. The WDNR also provides programs and services for environmental awareness and outreach.
Size of Organization The WDNR employs approximately 2,500 employees and serves the entire state as well as nonresident visitors.
Career Path This is my first job out of college.
What I Like About My Job I am extremely passionate about my work. I have been active outdoors for many years and have a strong connection with the natural world. Four years ago, however, I had a spinal cord injury and now use a wheelchair to get around. Being confronted with this new situation has opened my eyes to the challenges faced by people with disabilities when it comes to enjoying the outdoors. It’s very fulfilling to help open up the outdoors to this group of people.
Career Ladder I view this position as an interesting stepping stone to a career that I have yet to discover. Although I do love my job, it is definitely not what I had expected to be doing right out of college. I have been an avid environmentalist for quite a while but have developed a strong humanitarian side since my injury. I hope to find a career in the future that meshes both of these ideals, preferably at an international level.
Advice to Undergraduate Students Follow your heart as you pursue a career while working for a cause greater than yourself. Doing something fun as a job has obvious perks, but doing something that benefits something or someone beyond your personal ambitions is far more gratifying.
Personal Statement I have always made it a goal to work for a greater good, for something worthwhile. Working in this field is perhaps the most satisfying and rewarding experience I have ever had. Creating equal opportunities for people with disabilities to access the outdoors, or simply helping to add another small element of independence to someone’s life, is truly an indescribable feeling.
This is an excerpt from Inclusive Recreation: Programs and Services for Diverse Populations.