Access To Recreation

Sheer ocean blue sky encompassing horizon, the diamond face of warm sun threatens Spring, withering the lingering traces of brief but beautiful February snowfall covering ground in white cascade. Drips form streams puddling into tiny lakes before escaping to Earth swallow. A new season of growth readies itself for emergence. I am readily excited at the hint of warmth and rendezvous with all creatures of life outside in comfort sun and daily ritual. Spring for many of us represents a return to outdoor recreation, camping, and enjoyment of the great outdoors. In whatever way one fulfills this, we innately find a draw to experience just being outside and a sense of not wanting to waste all day inside separated from the elements by four walls and windows. This spring I am taking up scuba. I have had problems sitting with my left hip for about two years and scuba represents a way to do something without having to be in chair. In my last article I had mentioned that I was now finished with my 3rd book "A Different Way Of Being" and how all proceeds from this book are going to support a non-profit called Endeavor Freedom, Inc. Well starting in April, Endeavor Freedom will be hosting on-going scuba training classes for people with and without disabilities. I'll tell you a little bit about Endeavor freedom and then about the classes.

My friends Tony Boatright, Dominic Ottaviano, and I started Endeavor Freedom, a Georgia based 501 c-3 nonprofit, a year and a half ago with the idea of supporting quality of life issues for people with disabilities. Being an advocate for so many years, alternatives to institutionalization was key to me as we were coming up with a mission statement and which focus we wanted to take this non-profit into. But I didn't just want to help people to get into their own homes, I wanted to inspire them further to activities outside of house which would enable them fun and self-discovery. We wanted to create a way for people to be supported in sports, music, art, etc. especially encouraging new people to take up pursuit in areas of interest when they might lack funds but not desire. Tony and I being wheelchair fencers wanted to support the fencing program unique in size to Shepherd Center and the Atlanta area. Dominic being a dive master and Tony also being involved in scuba, wanted to gear our focus to fencing and scuba diving, since one was a pleasant and some what effortless way to access recreation, and the other competitive, goal oriented requiring years of hard training and disciplined persistence, but still leave it open for all other activity.

So Endeavor Freedom drew its mission statement from those avenues since we were already involved in and passionate about doing them anyways. We left room in the by-laws and articles of incorporation for other sports and other activities, but wanted to set focus with this guidance. In the month of April we are having our first Endeavor Freedom scuba class and are trying to draw together a group of disabled individuals interested in gathering perhaps once a month for dive trips and some fun. Dom will be training disabled persons, caregivers, and anybody else interested in the group in an ongoing basis. I will be getting certified then. As Endeavor Freedom is still new and not fully established in its funding, when it comes to cost we will help in every way we can, but cannot as of yet waive the entire fee of training for this activity. However we will assess individuals on a case by case basis. The class will be held sometime in April and all you need is snorkel mask and fins if you can propel your legs. Scuba is a great way for people who are wheelchair users to relieve pressure from their bottoms and backs and have fun exploring a weight free and buoyant environment unfettered by the constant squash of gravitational forces. It gets you out of your chair and in space where disabilities are somewhat less defined, reeling senses with explosion of input stimuli. Besides you do it in places of paradise where you may need a break from sitting anyways because of the all the partying you did the night before. So if that doesn't pique your interest to this activity did I mention there are almost always beaches around unless your spring or cave diving. There should be an ad accompanying this article in next month's DDM, only because my friend Dom is a slacker and was late getting it in.

We are also currently compiling names and assessing the needs of the disability populace to define where people need and for what. If you are in lack of anything or are having trouble accessing some technology or equipment to enhance life or give one access to sport or community, send an email to Dominic or I and we will do what we can to assist in whatever way we or Endeavor Freedom can. If it is something I feel another established Georgia non-profit would be better able to assist you in then I will guide you to that resource. Once we have you in our database and what your needs are, we will help as funding is generated and more avenues of it accessed. For large home modification grants or grants of more than $5000, I recommend trying to utilize the services of the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund. I will list the website for the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund at the bottom of this article. Please use "Grant request" as subject line.

Recently some of the recipients we have helped have been Wayne to get a wheelchair accessible van and delivered/donated it to him free of charge. We are helping Alisha travel to China for 6 months this year and teach English. We have helped Benjy purchase equipment needed to further his interest in Wheelchair fencing and Tournaments abroad. Next month we are sending and covering flight/hotel expenses for Tyrone, Rosalyn, Debra and Joe, who wanted to go to the upcoming action March 20-25 in support of ADAPT, MiCASSA S.971, and alternatives to institutionalization. We still need and encourage donations to Endeavor Freedom and because of our non-profit status we can give tax-deductible write-offs to those who support our various causes. Just this week a fairly new electric wheelchair was donated by the family of a 19 year old girl who had cerebral palsy. They were kind enough to want to give it to some other who may be in need. We honor her and them and are currently looking for someone who may need this piece of equipment and can provide the necessary reference to prove that necessity. The person needing it the most in our assessment will receive it free of charge, all that we ask is a little bit of paperwork be done for our books prior to its deliverance.

For those of you who missed the Atlanta World cup fencing event this past September 2003, Atlanta will be hosting Summer Nationals, a mixed categorized fencing tournament this late April called Summer Nationals; which will bring together thousands of the elite fencing competitors in the United States. Kids, adults, senior, and wheelchair combatants will duel to the best performance in three days of competition in three different weapons. Many of the best athletes at this tournament will represent our country in the Olympic and Paralympic games this summer in Athens, Greece. I know my teammates are stoked for the event, a homecoming of sorts for the Olympic games, and proving grounds for my friends who have trained hard all their lives to get to this moment.

Endeavor Freedom encourages persons to attend scuba classes and local area wheelchair fencing tournaments to see if one of these or both activities appeal to senses. If scuba or fencing do not sound of interest then you might want to call the therapeutic recreational department at Shepherd center to see what activities they have going on as they sponsor many sports teams and activities. Should one find interest in wheelchair fencing or need anything at all please allow us to know by emailing or Dominic Ottaviano at for scuba dates, times, and outings. We will do what we can to help in any way encourage participants interest in these events or any that inspire one to give access to music, sport, entertainment, advocacy, or quality of life improvement in any way.