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acts of kindness

TOMMIE CARES IN MT. KISCO GIVES KIDS WITH DISABILITIES THE CHANCE TO PARTICIPATE, CONNECT AND HAVE FUN by Rich Monetti

A chieving success and happi- ness involves a lifelong series of building blocks that come with experience. Confidence is a byprod- uct that cycles children upwards, but without the simple chance to participate some young people never get off the ground. Unfortunately, children with disabilities are far more likely to get stuck due to limited opportunities. That is one of the guiding principles of the Tommie

says. “We never force anyone – we just ask them to try,” she says. Latainer can safely report that she hasn’t seen any child pass up the chance. They also aren’t deterred if things fail the first time around. “Once they try, kids are willing to keep trying and soon realize it gets better every time.” Turning anxiety into anticipation does take careful coaching. “I think that’s where our volunteers come into play, by offering support.”

PHOTO BY TRICIA HENKES

Cares Foundation in Mt. Kisco. Tommie Cares opened its doors in 2013. Tom Kallish, of the Tommie Copper clothing line, wanted to give area children some of the opportunities that his special needs brother never had. The foundation gives children the chance to participate in fun ac- tivities like snow sports, stand up paddling, kayaking, outrigger ca- noeing and swimming. Through trial, error and accomplish- ment, “they learn that they have far more ability than they ever thought they did,” says Tommie Cares Program Director, Emilie Latainer. “Today, I did this, what else can I do now.”

As for the volunteers, their reward is a strengthened sense of community. “We hope that our young volunteers take the experience to their school,” La- tainer explains. “Then maybe it becomes more commonplace for students without disabilities to approach students with disabili- ties, and their school eventually becomes a more inclusive and accepting place.” Tommie Cares and their volunteers aren’t just affecting the lives of participating chil- dren. Brothers and sisters are

PHOTO BY TAMRA LEE BUTLER

* Ideally, Latainer hopes the efforts of organizations like Tommie Cares will pave the way for their own obsolescence. “It would be nice to see a world where we are not even needed because these opportunities are giv- en every day without a third party to facilitate them,” Latainer declares. But for now, she’ll be more than content to make a difference at Tom- mie Cares. “It makes me happy and proud to come to work every day,” she concludes. To get involved, learn more or donate: Tommie Cares Foundation, 74 S. Moger Ave., Mt. Kisco, NY, 10549. 914-362-2215 www.tommiecares.org greatly impacted too. “Having the opportunities to see siblings succeed in a way that they haven’t seen before is really life changing,” Latainer states. “It’s also uplifting to see their siblings treated with respect, because a lot of times they aren’t, but we are working to change that.”

The chance to feel accepted goes a long way too. “Kids with disabilities often don’t have a lot of connection outside of their family,” says Latainer. “So to have someone to hang out and be kids with is just a great thing.” The hope is that the effect doesn’t wear off by Monday morning. “It gives them the confidence to walk into school with their heads held high,” says Latainer. Additionally, it allows them to interact with different kids and try things that they might have been too nervous to do before. “We want to create a memory, which they might not have had otherwise.” It all hinges on being able to deliver the fun in a safe manner. “We make sure we provide adaptive equipment to make the activities possible for all.” “We have trained volunteers who do this for a living and ensure every- thing is safe,” explains Latainer. The results speak for themselves. “We’ve never had a situation where a kid’s disability kept him or her from participating in our activities,” she

Rich Monetti is a Westchester writer.

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