Brashinger: Wallace to bring therapeutic sports recreation to Africa
By Ginger Brashinger Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org February 7, 2013 1:44PM
Keith Wallace, Lincolnway Special Recreation Association’s superintendent of recreation, sits at his desk at Lincoln-Way Central High School in New Lenox. | Supplied Photo
Updated: March 11, 2013 6:10AM
Keith Wallace, 35, is asking for “just a prayer” from everyone as he embarks on a journey to Nairobi, Kenya, in Africa that promises to be unique in many ways.
Wallace, superintendent of recreation for the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association, has been working with people from Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park to bring therapeutic sports recreation to people in the slums and urban areas of Nairobi who have physical and/or cognitive disabilities.
They will be part of a larger team of about 100 Parkview members whose Mission of Hope is to help people in need and, in the process, empower them to improve their lives.
“I wanted to go because I’ve been doing recreation for people with disabilities for a long time, and I just wanted to spread the knowledge and the love to another country,” Wallace said.
Although the mission will be a challenge for everyone, it may be more so for Wallace’s team. Its role covers relatively uncharted waters on several fronts.
For most on Wallace’s 10-member all-volunteer team, working with people with disabilities is a first-time experience. The Nairobian recipients also will be inexperienced, likely never having had the chance to engage in organized recreation, Wallace said.
To take the edge off, Wallace has run several simulations with his team. An especially meaningful one was done with the help of students from the LWSRA program to help team members understand what they might encounter.
“I threw the team in trial by fire,” Wallace said.
Although the chaos of the simulated training probably will be mirrored in reality when the team gets to Nairobi, Wallace remains focused.
“The purpose really is, we’re going to do sports for them and, if they are open to it, to (help them) start a sports program,” Wallace said. “We’ll not only be working with the people with disabilities, but … a team of people that wants to continue this.”
Wallace said when he heard about the mission in church, his desire to be part of it was immediate, but he wasn’t sure where he would fit in.
“I’m not a construction guy,” Wallace said. “I’m not a medical guy. What I’m good at is getting people to recreate who have disabilities.”
Wallace knew a recreation program hadn’t been part of the previous mission, so he pitched his idea to a committee led by Sean Mixson, Parkview’s missions pastor, who contacted Kenya to see if there was a need in the area where Parkview volunteers would be working. When Mixson was told that about 100 families reported having a family member with some type of disability, all systems were go.
Wallace hopes to meet as many people with special needs as possible in the 10 days the group will spend working there in mid-February. He has collected sports equipment and four wheelchairs to be left in Nairobi; it is hoped they will become the equipment seeds for a new program.
Wallace said setting up the program will be the most important part of his time in Nairobi. Appropriate programs — rather than just lumping everyone together as if all disabilities were the same — lead to success for participants and the program, Wallace said.
“We’ll get them in the right sport,” he said.
Wallace has planned an aggressive schedule. He intends to group all the people by age, ability and disability, knowing that some people will have multiple disabilities. He plans to assess people the first day, then place them in groups before scheduling appropriate activities.
Add to that the necessary home visits for those with severe disabilities, and team members have their work cut out for them.
Wallace, who never has been outside the United States, said he knows the experience will “be challenging” in many ways. But he believes “opening the awareness” that people with disabilities need and deserve the opportunity to participate in sports and recreation appropriate to their abilities is not only an important pursuit, but a win-win situation for everyone.
“That’s what God put me on Earth to do,” Wallace said.