News

Mom, New York club create bowling league for students with disabilities

Apr 04, 2019

rsz_olympics

The loud crashes of bowling balls hitting pins filled a New York bowling alley. But the clapping and cheers that followed were not the same as those from the usual league nights. This bowling contest was different. Hundreds of Special Olympics athletes were rolling the balls down the lane. They were the ones cheering, laughing, high-fiving and competing. All brought together by a mom and her Kiwanis club.

rsz_olympics2Kristy Evans, a teacher, joined Kiwanis in 2015 as a way to give back and make a difference in her community. When she learned her community school district was trying to integrate students with learning and developmental disabilities back into the school buildings, she invited a speaker to the Kiwanis Club of the Islips, Bay Shore to talk about the process. Kate O’Callaghan, director of Student Support Services for the Islip School District, told members about some of the challenges the students were facing because the district didn’t have all the tools and materials to help the students cope in their new learning location.

The club immediately set out to organize a bowling fundraiser. In 2017, members quickly raised US$2,000 to equip the classrooms with special sensory equipment. In 2018, the event raised an additional $3,000 for more equipment. Many families of the students who benefited from the equipment attended the bowling fundraiser and had a great time. That gave Evans and the club an idea: Create a bowling league for students with special needs.

“We saw how much fun the kids were having,” said Evans. “We applied and received a grant from the Kiwanis Children’s Fund and raised money from other sources. This past January, our Kiwanis club was able to create and fund a bowling league for 17 athletes.”

rsz_olympics3Every Saturday for 10 weeks, the students came to the bowling alley to practice their skills. They improved each week and soon were ready for the Special Olympics bowling match on March 23. Teams from nearby communities arrived. Each team — wearing matching shirts — had their game faces on, which quickly turned to smiles as the athletes paraded throughout the bowling alley carrying a torch to replicate the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

The athletes took their spot on the lanes and started rolling the bowling balls. Some got strikes. Others got gutter balls. It didn’t matter. Everyone was having fun and cheering for their new friends. Among the athletes on the lane, Evans’ eight-year-old daughter with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves.

“It’s such an awesome feeling to see all the kids having fun,” Evans said. “Everyone has big smiles on their faces. It’s such a nice feeling.”

The local chapter of the Special Olympics has a plan to fund the bowling league and contest for 2020.

“We have organizations like Kiwanis that will raise money for them. We won’t let it go away.”

Learn more about the Kiwanis Children’s Fund club grant program at kiwanischildrensfund.org/clubgrants.