“I’m grateful that we exist.”
This five-word sentence holds enormous weight for ABLE Youth’s Executive Director, Amy Saffell, and she is not the only one who feels this way.
ABLE Youth is the only organization of its kind, located in Nashville, that provides opportunities for youth with physical disabilities to learn to be independent by using adaptive sports as a vehicle to do that. The ABLE Way – to Adapt, Believe, Love, and Enjoy life – has drawn in hundreds of youth and families traveling from as far as Indiana to participate in its monthly Super Sports Saturday events.
“Our founder, Rick Slaughter, became a wheelchair user at 17, and sports were an instrumental part of his healing and recovery and his journey to becoming productive and independent,” said Saffell.
After Slaughter’s accident, he helped kids get fitted for their wheelchairs as part of his job. While he was working, he started asking the kids what they do for fun.
“They would say, ‘well I go to my sister’s soccer games,’ or, ‘I go to my brother’s basketball games,’ and he realized the kids he was working with didn’t have the same opportunities as others,” said Saffell.
Thus, ABLE Youth was born in 1997 to create those opportunities.
“Learning the importance of complete independence in all activities of daily living leads to self-esteem, motivation, and a desire to excel,” said Saffell.
Children in the ABLE Youth program start from as young as two years old and can receive support through high school and beyond as they become independent adults.
“I grew up in programs like ABLE Youth and, honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without them,” Saffell said. “Now as the executive director, it’s so great to be able to give that back to others. I get so much from it and it’s really meaningful for me.”
The significance of this program goes far beyond athletics and life skills. Oftentimes, she says, events like Super Sports Saturday are the first time some kids get the opportunity to meet other people in wheelchairs, especially other kids who are the same age.
“Confidence and community are so important for wheelchair users, I can’t imagine not having other people around me who are going through the same thing. A lot of these kids don’t see other people in wheelchairs, especially people who are their age and they learn from each other,” she said. “Seeing another kid do something can show them that something they didn’t think they could do is possible, and then it’s like if I can do this one thing, then what’s another thing I can do and another thing… Just knowing there are other people out there and knowing that they can do anything they want to do is so important. People with disabilities can do anything everyone else can do.”
As the efforts to bring Major League Baseball continue, Saffell says an MLB team could provide new and exciting opportunities for kids.
“Sports brings so much excitement to the town,” said Saffell. “We’ve done stuff with the Predators and when we have special visitors come, it just adds a lot of excitement. The kids feel valued that someone comes to our program and wants to get involved. Sometimes kids with disabilities are not encouraged to play sports like baseball, so getting a chance to learn about a new sport that some of our kids haven’t played before gives them the chance to learn about something different and about new opportunities they might have.”
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