Lifestyle

Temple club mentors special needs athletes

The Temple chapter of Athletes Helping Athletes works to mentor people with special needs.

Jennifer Baumher missed her subway ride to the Owls’ football game against University of Southern Florida, which only made her more nervous for the Oct. 21 game.

“I had field passes and was supposed to be at the stadium by 6:30 [p.m.] and ended up missing the subway,” she said. “By the time we got there, we took off running and arrived on the field out of breath and sweaty.”

The junior nursing major is the registration chair for Temple’s chapter of Athletes Helping Athletes, which works to provide mentorship to athletes with special needs. The chapter’s first event was held before the USF football game.

The organization was founded in Bucks County in 2001 to provide awareness and community support for athletes with special needs in the region, according to its website. In September, Temple became an official university chapter and now has 35 members.

“Athletes Helping Athletes is an opportunity for athletes to see how much joy and union their talents can bring as well as provide a safe, friendly environment for the special needs community,” said Brittany Worthington, a junior psychology major and treasurer of AHA.

Michael Haegele, a participant in Temple Athletes Helping Athletes, guesses the number of the Helmet Shuffle at the final home Temple football game this season at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday. GENEVA HEFFERNAN FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

Michael Haegele, a participant in Temple Athletes Helping Athletes, guesses the number of the Helmet Shuffle at the final home Temple football game this season at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday. GENEVA HEFFERNAN FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple AHA is working with students referred to them by the Bucks County chapter.

“I had no idea what to expect, but the moment I got to the stadium I realized I shouldn’t have been hesitant,” Baumher said. “They were just as close to being somebody I bond with every day.”

Despite her concern over being late to the October football game, Baumher said her good feelings were reinforced after she met the four athletes that night: TJ, Matt, Ryan and Mike, who all enjoy football, soccer and basketball.

The group of athletes ranged from 18-30 years old and were from Philadelphia and Bucks County.

“They were so excited, every little thing meant so much to them and their families,” Baumher said. “I wanted to cheer more because they were so excited and grateful.”

In high school, AHA President and junior human development and community engagement major Katie Chiodo was involved with the organization and saw a need to bring its work to Temple’s athletics program.

“She saw how much joy it brought her, the other volunteers and the kids with special needs,” Worthington said. “She has a passion for the special needs community and knew she had to bring the program to Temple.”

Penn State University, Villanova University and St. Joseph’s University also have chapters of AHA.

“The program already exists in high schools and other universities to break the stereotype among the special needs community and form interactions among athletes,” Baumher said.

“We are working on incorporating students from surrounding high schools and Temple special needs students,” Worthington said. “Temple University Athletes Helping Athletes is a program that wants to include as many people as possible, regardless of age, school or location.”

Baumher said AHA members hope to reach out to other local organizations including the Academy for Adult Learning — which is run by Temple’s Institute on Disabilities — and host a “fun day” on Main Campus in December.

The event, which Baumher hopes to host in the Student Pavilion on Broad Street near Berks, would include sports scrimmages and face-painting stations  for athletes, volunteers, kids with special needs and their families.

Baumher has worked with the special needs community before. During her senior year at Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School, Baumher was a soccer buddy through Upper Dublin soccer club’s outreach program. She taught special needs children how to play soccer and volunteered with the Special Olympics at Villanova.

Colin Thompson, a tight end for the football team who is also an AHA mentor, gave Baumher the field passes for the four athletes that night.

“It is not just a club, but a group of friends and family trying to better the lives of all people,” said Thompson, a senior communication studies major.

Along with the fun day, Temple’s AHA chapter is looking for spring sports to incorporate into its organization. The members also plan to attend five basketball games this season with the special needs athletes.

“We want this organization to be year-round,” Worthington said. “We don’t want to limit it to just fall sports, but get as many sports involved as possible.”

Madison Hall can be reached at madison.hall@temple.edu.

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