by CINDY M. CRANMER
Working together to benefit special needs students was the goal of everyone involved in a recent activity on the Rogue River. About 40 Rockford High School (RHS) crew team members gave up part of their summer break to work with about 20 special needs students.
RHS students have been giving back through the Rockford Athletes with a Mission of Service (R.A.M.S.) program. The Special Treasures group, which serves area special needs children, has been in existence for about three years. During the 2011-2012 year Special Treasures teamed up with the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC) in Rockford to put together athletic clinics for students with any type of special need. The most recent activity was in mid-June and involved coordinating efforts to get the special needs students on the Rogue River.
Grace Smith—who has a son, Hayden, in the Special Treasures Group and a daughter, Eva, in crew—thought having a crew event would be fun, as the group has done various other sports such as cross country, volleyball, dance, basketball, bowling, soccer, tennis, track and baseball.
“We all thought it would be a fun thing for the kids to do,” Smith said.
However, crew team boats are expensive, so using them was not the best option.
Melissa Sova, who has a stepson in the SEPAC group, was talking to a client of her salon, Xpress Clips in Rockford, about trying to make the event happen. The client, Mary Wiseman, had the answer.
Wiseman, owner of AAA Canoes for the past five years, donated the use of 17 canoes, nine kayaks, and life jackets, and provided eight staff members to make the activity a reality.
Each student was in a canoe with two crew team members. There also were lifeguards and spotters mixed in among the group.
Grace and Eva Smith both said the event was “exciting” and “a great thing for everyone involved.”
“I thought it would be a good way to give back to the community,” said Tori Porter, a sophomore.
“We get to introduce kids to a sport that can be a lifelong pastime,” said Justin Adsitt, another crew team member.
Wiseman and Sova coordinated the pickup of students in downtown Rockford and the drop-off at 12 Mile and Summit. The canoes went down the Rogue River until they reached downtown Rockford again.
“I did it because it’s about the kids,” Wiseman said. “I have a special needs grandson.”
Wiseman said she opened her business for the purpose of providing a service for area children and families.
Wiseman’s generous donation made the event happen, said Amy Kelley, a parent volunteer who coordinates projects with students along with Cindy Quinn through Special Treasures.
Quinn and Kelley both have children in the Rockford school district and got involved with the program for personal reasons.
“I have a heart for these kids and this cause,” Kelley said.
Wiseman wants children to learn there is more to life than computers and video games. She runs her business under this philosophy.
Her grandson, Carter, was supposed to die but is now nine and loves being on the water. “I wanted to share that,” she said. “This went really smooth. I’ve got a good crew.”
Wiseman said she would “absolutely” do it again.
Sweet Tooth and Custard by the Dam offered the group a discount and so everyone enjoyed a treat after their trip.
“It’s wonderful how everyone pitched in to make this happen,” Kelley said. “We are so appreciative of the community for their support. The crew team was obviously very excited. To get 40 volunteers on the first day of summer break says a lot. We’re hoping to do even more activities next year.”
“It’s a lot of fun helping with the kids,” said Isaac Blenman, a senior on the crew team.
Blenman said the crew team also learned their boats are more stable than canoes. While a couple people learned this by tipping the canoe, everyone took everything in stride and said they had a great time.
Blenman said this was his last event in this sport, as he won’t be able to afford crew in college. “It was a lot of fun. This was a good end,” he said.
The clinics are available to students for free or a nominal cost. The clinics are fully monitored and individualized to match the abilities of each student who participates by being one-on-one or two-on-one for most events.
Anyone who wants to learn more about the Special Treasures group or opportunities for those with special needs can contact Kelley through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.