Camden & Zoe Richard
School Based Community Walking Programs
Three days a week during the school year, Camden and Zoe Richard join other River’s Way Gamechangers (young adults with differing abilities) and our program director, Matt Kyle, in leading walking programs with gym classes in local schools. River’s Way works with over 900 students each year. Zoe and Camden both have Down’s Syndrome. On this particular Tuesday, the Gamechangers are at Tennessee Middle School where they are warmly welcomed at the front desk by school employees. They then head down to the gym where they join a general education physical education class along with a class of special education students. The entire group forms a large circle run by “Mr. Matt”. Matt encourages everyone to be an “active beast”. This means that everyone walks the whole time, no one complains and everyone takes an opportunity to encourage and support others. Then the group begins to walk, circling the gym for the next 30 minutes. Zoe is a favorite of the girls in the class and she is usually surrounded by a small group as she walks. Camden walks and occasionally interacts with other walkers.Students, teachers, teacher aides, Gamechangers and Mr. Matt walk and talk with each other for the entire 30 minutes.
Once the walking is done, the group gathers again in a big circle. Mr. Matt says it’s time for “kudos”. Kudos are where students and teachers can give compliments and appreciation to fellow group members. Without the presence of the Gamechangers, this open sharing would probably not take place. Somehow, the students and adults with differing abilities set a tone that allows everyone to share more freely. It is inspiring to hear the compliments and thanks that walkers exchange with one another. After 10 minutes of Kudos, Mr. Matt dimisses the group. The Gamechangers remain in the gym in order to walk with an upcoming class of special education students. Following this period, the Gamechangers head out to one of the special education classrooms where Mr. Matt leads a goal setting session with the Gamechangers and the special education students and their staff.
Lisa Richard is the mother of Zoe and Camden Richard. She is so grateful that her adult children have River’s Way. Lisa is the Director of Community Involvement for Virginia Commonwealth University. She attends numerous state conferences on disabilities during the year where she consistently has to answer the question, “How can our community get a River’s Way?”
- Students of all abilities share a positive experience where everyone works on the same goal and encourage each other to succeed
- Walking program provides an opportunity for students to socialize and staff encourage students to get to know people outside their friend group and “clicks”
- Adults and students of all abilities share testimonies (or “kudos) of appreciation and respect for others in the program
- People of all ages and abilities enjoy the benefits of walking together
- Gamechangers benefit from knowing that they have made a positive difference in the lives of youth
- A school community sees that people of ALL abilities belong in our community; and they witness adults with differing abilities in leadership roles within the community