who subsequently became president of both the Northport Special Education Parent Teachers Association (SEPTA) and PTA for her children’s schools. So in 2006 she started her own soccer club for children with special needs, which she calls Just for Kicks.
As a result, every Sunday during soccer season, players of varying developmental and physical disabilities gather at a soccer field in Northport to play the game. The program encompasses about 50 kids from ages 4 through 21, with three teams: 4 to 7, 7 to 12 and 13-plus playing on three different fields. The players are all shadowed one-on-one by adult and kid volunteers, including Randi, who sometimes takes to the field on the days she’s not playing her own games to be with her brother. Alan Topel, who also coaches Randi’s team, serves as one of the Just for Kicks coaches.
“The volunteers redirect and assist the kids who get distracted,” says Tammie, a registered nurse and a part-time fitness coordinator at the Huntington YMCA. “We have middle and high school kids volunteering as well, and they enjoy it so much they come back even after they complete their required community service hours for their schools.”
But it’s the value to the players that fuels her passion. “There’s a lot of data to support that children with developmental disabilities respond to physical activity. It improves their fitness, motor function and behavior,” she says. “And there are the social implications of participating in sports and exercise, including the promotion of self-esteem. For those with disabilities who are able to participate in team sports, this presents an opportunity to develop social relationships among teammates and learn how to recognize the social cues required for successful performance on the field or court. I see it with my own child that when he’s physically engaged he’s so much more productive.”
Adds Alan: “It’s a good social experience for the kids because they come together and play. But it’s also a chance for their parents to feel part of a community and to have some respite while their children are having fun.”
Though Tammie originally created the club under the auspices of the Northport Youth Soccer League, it was so successful she decided there was a need beyond her community. “I figured if I can do it for soccer, why not with other sports?” she says.
In 2009 she founded K.I.D.S. Plus (KIDS in Developmental Sports), a foundation that offers low-cost activities for children with physical and/or mental disabilities and allows siblings to play as well. K.I.D.S. Plus draws from all over the island and includes music, art, creative movement, yoga, martial arts and track and field, as well as a summer camp program.
Tammie keeps the program affordable at $25 for 8 weeks by spending a lot of time fundraising. K.I.D.S. Plus is supported by funds from businesses, organizations and private donations. Classes and programs are held at facilities and businesses throughout the town of Huntington.
“But my dream is to have my own space so I can offer more programs,” she says. “I’d like the foundation to extend to other community activities that aren’t available to special needs children. Ultimately, I’d like to start a group home and a day-hab treatment center for adults with developmental disabilities.”
For now, though, the Topels are like many families who juggle their children’s activities every weekend. The difference is that if there’s a missing activity that can benefit her children’s lives, chances are Tammie will be the one to create it.
To learn more about the K.I.D.S. Plus Foundation, visit www.kidsplusinc.com, call 631-514-1096 or e-mail email@example.com.
Liza N. Burby is publisher of Long Island Parent magazine.
Thanks to: Karen Vito from Cactus Salon & Day Spa for arranging for hair and make-up, make-up artist Lauren Magalhaes. Shot at the Heckscher Museum of Art and Heckscher Park in Huntington.