Dear VIP families and friends,
As many of you know, I am retiring from my position as Administrator of our region’s Very Important Player Program (VIP). VIP has been near and dear to my heart. I would like to take this moment to share some of the history of the program and the lessons I have learned from it.
I helped launch VIP in the fall of 2006, when my 12 year-old daughter, Kara, was looking for a way to be of service to the community. Kara loved playing soccer on both AYSO travel and non-travel teams. We learned that our AYSO region was interested in offering a soccer program to kids with special needs; this program, called VIP, already existed in other AYSO regions. With Kara’s enthusiasm in mind, I agreed to launch VIP for our region starting Fall 2007.
That first fall we had a handful of players; Kara corralled friends and soccer teammates to assist as peer volunteers. Within the year, Julie Sarne and her mother, Nancy, and Marissa Leib-Neri and her mother, Lisa, volunteered to help coordinate the VIP program.
As coordinators, we had little experience with kids with special needs. Through the patient help of parents, we learned to maintain consistency and predictability in our practices and cultivate independence in our players. Most importantly, we learned the value of developing relationships between kids with special needs and typically developing kids.
The program is continually evolving as we gather new knowledge and adjust to each year’s participants and coaches, but one aspect that remains constant is having youth volunteers assist players.
I am passionate about our decision to include youth volunteers. It is a unique opportunity for our city’s adolescents to give back to their community in a meaningful and independent way. I have relished watching these young volunteers grow to enjoy and interact with others who communicate and learn differently from them.
Another constant that became clear early in the development of our regions’ VIP is its pluralistic nature. We have a broader range of nationalities than the mainstream programs in our region, including families with limited understanding of the English language, access to technology or financial resources. I am grateful to the Region’s board and fellow Coordinators for striving to accommodate these families, whether through financial aid, additional registration days, or translations.
As I reflect upon the history of our program’s development, I proudly embrace how our program is about so much more than offering soccer to kids with special needs. I am most grateful to our players, who have deepened my understanding of human nature and “disability.” As a result of my involvement with the program, I have a greater appreciation for the spectrum of how we express our feelings: fears, obsessions, love, joy. I can more effectively intuit ways to communicate with others, including touch, tone of voice, gesture, and simply presence.
VIP reminds us that our challenges and vulnerabilities are part of the human condition and that we are all connected, regardless of our ethnic, economic, physical, social or cognitive differences. In sum, the VIP program is a unique and vital opportunity for all of our community.
I am excited about the capability and enthusiasm of next years’ Coordinators, including Jonathon Weatherly, who will be taking my place as VIP Administrator, and Hedy Keiderling, who will continue as Volunteer Coordinator.
Thank you all for honoring me with the opportunity to learn from and work with you and your children over the past 7 years.
August 20, 2013