Help Expand Recreation Opportunities (HERO) is a nonprofit organization founded to provide quality recreational opportunities for all people with disabilities. It first began operations in 1992 as a pilot project that would serve 50 recipients of mental health services who participated in an adapted tennis program during the summer. The pilot was so effective that it was expanded later that year to include developmentally disabled adults and children as well. The people that conceived HERO were community oriented able-bodied and disabled men and women who saw the need for this kind of activity. Each of the founders were dedicated volunteers whose years of service prepared them to take on the challenge of building HERO into the organization it is today.
After eight years of life, HERO has grown to serve more than 1,000 adults and children with disabilities throughout the New York metropolitan area. Some of the programs offered are adapted tennis, dance, karate, and pet therapy. The goals of the program are fun, fitness, and positive social experiences. The participants come from social agencies, special schools, hospitals, rehab centers, group homes, and Head Start centers. Participants may have developmental disabilities like cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome, autism, attention deficit disorder and retardation. In addition, some of the participants may also have physical disabilities like multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury or be HIV positive, or they may suffer from emotional and environmental disabilities.
The program teaches activities in on-going sessions at various facilities. Progress of the participants is measured by the enjoyment and improved social inter-action with peers, teachers, and staff. HERO employs innovative approaches to both the activities and the equipment used. They integrate each session with the curricula and goals of the agency or organization involved.
HERO became involved with the United States Tennis Association in 1998. They wanted to also “grow the game.” During the past two years, HERO has introduced adapted tennis to more than 2,000 adults and children with disabilities through special tennis carnivals called “Free for Alls.” Each of the participants warms-up, stretches, and plays games designed for fun. The tennis sessions have produced many memories for the recipients who have not had the chance to do anything athletic before.
HERO is also active in teaching karate. Their program has featured developmentally disabled adults learning Japanese and working towards a special “yellow belt.” The adapted dance program has also enabled profoundly retarded persons with multiple challenges to feel part of a group while learning new social skills. The pet therapy program has afforded homeless youngsters an opportunity to care for an animal and feel the unconditional love unavailable to them in their present situations. All of the programs benefit immeasurably from HERO’s volunteers who serve with dedication and loyalty to the participants.
HERO will continue their mission of service to those of the New York’s Metropolitan population with disabilities through on-going programs that provide them with the fun, fitness and positive social experiences previously lacking in their lives. They wish to also bring this kind of special recreation to many more people, of all ages and disabilities.