When high school athletes Ian Niggles and Sam Zeng learned there was no program in their community to help special needs students get out on a soccer field and participate in their favorite sport, these two local stars started a league of their own.
Drawing on their experience volunteering with Special Olympics, 15-year-olds Ian and Sam created Brunswick County Free Kicks, a soccer program for special needs children that is led by high school and middle school athletes who are passionate about sharing their love for the game with others. The dynamic duo worked with the Brunswick County Parks and Recreation department to create the program, which serves students ages 8-18, and recruit fellow athletes in their network to coach teams. A group of 17 volunteers from high school and middle school lead everything from planning to practice sessions and organizing competition through Special Olympics.
There is even a free summer camp run by these same volunteers, and Ian and Sam have a fun story to share about the last day of camp. “A few of the volunteers filled up around 200 water balloons so we could play games, and ultimately have a water balloon fight for a change of pace,” they recall. “After a long day of training and intense heat, we thought everyone needed some fun. The athletes absolutely loved it.”
What Ian and Sam created in 2013 is more than a soccer program. Brunswick County Free Kicks empowers young people with special needs to form friendships in this rural community and develop a healthy lifestyle outside of school. The two boys are grooming other classmates to take over the program once they graduate.
“Starting Brunswick County Free Kicks and working with the special needs athletes on a regular basis has been an extremely gratifying experience,” Ian and Sam explain. “While the purpose of the program is to teach them, we have learned so much. Every practice, they come out ready to learn and play, but most importantly, to have fun. So for our peers not currently volunteering in some sort of way, we encourage them to see what they are missing out on.”
Fostering a positive environment and leveling the playing field for special needs youth to participate in competitive sports, Brunswick County Free Kicks is a Point of Light. Because when volunteers step up to fill unmet needs in their community, everybody wins.
Did You Know? More than 5,000 honorees have been recognized since 1989 with the Daily Point of Light award. Help Points of Light share the stories of local heroes in your community by filling out a nomination today at http://www.pointsoflight.org/programs/recognition/dpol/nomination