Athletes for kids and kids for athletes

McKenzie Fysh, Staff Writer

“The forest is crawling with them. There are zombies in the trees, goblins in the bushes. We are humanity’s last hope and we are totally and utterly surrounded, toting Nerf guns as we explore the forest. It’s a typical day with my buddy- how we interact,” senior participant James Ricks said.
Over the last 13 years, the nonprofit organization, Athletes for Kids has paired over 600 high school athletes with special needs students in the Issaquah school district, inspiring this mindset.
“As a high schooler, we get caught up in the notion that we are really cool, but connecting with my buddy has allowed me to let go of this. He reminds me that we are all the same,” Ricks said.
“It is so important to help kids with disabilities in this way- providing them with good memories and a life-long friendship. They just want a friend to be there for them,” parent of a child with special needs and founder Ken Moscaret said.
Over the last few years, many Liberty student athletes have been a part of this program. A mentor and buddy meet at least two times a month, building a relationship in various ways.
“My buddy is Rowen Young; he’s eleven. Every weekend, we get together and just hang out, usually kicking around the soccer ball or playing video games,” junior participant Jordan McCallum said.
The benefits of this mentorship are abundant and evident.
“A friend of mine has Down syndrome and I have always wanted to be able to reach out to kids just like him,” McCallum said.
Often kids who apply for the program are timid, and without many friends their age.
“This program helps isolated kids learn confidence; it makes them feel accepted,” junior participant Megan Kirschner said.
But while the positive effects to the kids are widely discussed, the valuable benefits gained by the mentors often go unrecognized.
“It’s really cool that I can be a role model to my buddy. It not only helps the kids but teaches us leadership. We are role models for each other,” McCallum said.
Another benefit from the program that has a widespread effect is the ability it has to change the way our communities think of those with disabilities.
“There is a stigma to combat, and this program breaks down those barriers in place,” Ricks said.
Changing the world one buddy system at a time, Athletes for Kids not only transforms the lives of those often alienated from society, but transforms the hearts of the teenagers.