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Staten Island Advance feature article dated June 16, 2011

Families Helping Families’ soccer clinic has special ending

Published: Thursday, June 16, 2011, 2:15 PM     Updated: Friday, June 17, 2011, 3:27 PM
  By Joe Sorensen Staten Island Advance
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Over 100 youngsters participated in the FHF soccer clinic. Families Helping Families special needs soccer clinicgallery (6 photos)

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NEW DORP — Everyone was smiling, especially the children, as it was time for all the participants to receive their medals.

It was the fifth and final week of the Families Helping Families (FHF) special needs soccer clinic and the excitement was in the air as everybody gathered at Miller Field in New Dorp for the award ceremony.
The program began April 30 and ran every Saturday for five weeks, skipping the Memorial Day weekend, and finishing June 4.
FHF and several coaches from the Staten Island United travel soccer program were helped by several of the their young players. There were also over 150 high school volunteers who gave their time to more than 100 registered kids participating in the clinic.
“We just wanted to create a place for parents and families to come and relax and enjoy themselves,” said Andrea Anna Lella, the founder and CEO Program Director of FHF.

Ms. Lella started the FHF in January of 2008 to help parents of children with special needs advocate for educational rights. The program puts on sports clinics and parties for the children and their families to help boost confidence and social skills.
Inspired by her own family’s dealing with special needs, Ms. Lella wanted to help those who were not as fortunate as she.
“There is no hope for a full recovery for those that are not given help immediately,” Ms. Lella said. “There are children that will not be helped until they are 6, but by then it is too late.”
The program reached its full potential when Jennifer Parsons and Bernadette Olk joined forces with Ms. Lella.

The FHF wants to make lives easier for those families who deal with challenges and hardships every day and wants to give parents a break and opportunity to be able to have a good time and enjoy themselves.

“Normally they can’t do it. It has to be a specific setting and that’s what we do,” Ms. Parsons, the chief operating officer of the FHF said about the soccer clinic and the other programs FHF hosts.

Ms. Parsons is responsible for organizing events for the children, such as play groups, technology and homework help programs, social skills clubs, and numerous workshops.

She also helps families and their children understand their rights within the school system. Laura Brereton, whose son plays for Staten Island United with Ms. Parsons’ son, joined with the FHF and the Staten Island Youth Soccer League to raise money for the program. The money helped pay for the equipment, the field time, and the medals that each participating child received.

“It’s really rewarding,” Ms. Brereton said. “Even for a younger kid, like my son, to see the joy in their faces. It’s exciting to watch.”

The excitement was most visible in the face of Robert Yost as he watched as his son, R.J., 5, and his step-son, Christopher Becker, 10, enjoy themselves on the field with big smiles on their faces.

“Sometimes some of the kids with special disabilities get overlooked,” Yost said. “Especially in sports, whether it’s because of hand-eye coordination, or the speed of the game.”

Yost knew his kids were in good hands when they saw Gabby Nuara show up at the field. Nuara, whose brother was diagnosed with autism at age 2, helped recruit most of the high school volunteers over the loud speaker at her high school, St. Joseph by-the- Sea.

“A lot of these kids have no friends and are not social,” Ms. Nuara, who is also a head coach in the Fast Break Basketball Center’s clinic for autistic children, said. “The more I can be friends to them, the better.”
Ms. Nuara is proof that you don’t need a lot of experience to help younger children in sports. She has no soccer experience, and only played a year of basketball in high school, before being sidelined due to an injury.
Ms. Lella offers community service hours to the volunteers, but says she does not recall ever being asked to sign off for them.
She is thankful to everyone involved, and that she has the chance to give every child the opportunity for a one-on-one relationship with a volunteer.
“It’s fulfilling to see the children enjoying themselves and being able to participate normally,” Ms. Parsons said.
The FHF’s next event will be a School’s Out for Summer party June 30 at Labetti Post Hall from noon to 4 p.m.
FHF is a not-for-profit organization that serves children with special needs. All monies raised go directly to support FHF programs and events.
For more information about FHF and these events, e-mail familieshelpingfamilies@msn.com or visit www.fhfnyc.org.

[ Please use our NEW e-mail address, fhf@fhfnyc.org ]

 
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