You are here

Daemen athletics program pairs students with developmentally disabled children, exposing them to exercise and movement

In Daemen’s CAUSE program, student-athletes provide opportunities for people with disabilities to improve physical fitness and experience the camaraderie that comes with athletics participation. Bill Regan / Daemen College

On a recent Sunday, two basketball lovers took the court for the Center for Allied and Unified Sport and Exercise program at Daemen.

One was Tiara Filbert, a 5-foot-9 guard on the women’s basketball team. The other was an 8-year-old boy she calls “Curry” because his favorite player is NBA star Steph Curry. During the last 20 minutes of their time together this spring, he grabbed a basketball and excitedly showed Filbert how many baskets he could make in a row, as has become their routine.

Under the supervision of Daemen faculty and coaches, students and student-athletes like Filbert are paired with participants with developmental disabilities to engage in activities that promote sport, exercise and socialization. Sunday sessions for ages 6 to 18 take place weekly at Daemen’s Academic and Wellness Center gym in Amherst, New York.

“You can’t really explain the type of feeling that it gives you,” says Filbert, a redshirt sophomore  from Batavia, New York. “The joy that it gives you — you can just walk away and look back on it for years to come and just know that you did something and made a difference somewhere.”

The program, known as CAUSE, provides opportunities for people with disabilities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience the camaraderie and sportsmanship that come with athletics participation. It was created with the help of grant funding from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Legacy Funds at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

Some students like Filbert also are involved in Thursday sessions called “Our Place,” which are designed for older participants.

“This initiative has created unique opportunities for our students, faculty and staff to share their passion for sport and exercise while making a positive impact in the lives of persons with disabilities throughout western New York,” Daemen President Gary Olson says. “Through an array of programs, participants from our community are experiencing sports and recreational activities in a competitive environment that builds skills and promotes camaraderie and a healthy lifestyle.”

The Sunday CAUSE sessions are part of the service learning curriculum at Daemen. The students greet participants as they arrive and introduce them to different types of activities to test their limits while making sure that everyone remains in good spirits — all while creating connections between both groups.

According to Cristina Apostol, a rising junior on the women’s volleyball team, Daemen is a “small college that does big things.” She says she and her fellow students try to encourage the kids to feel included, even though their everyday surroundings can create limitations for them.

“We try to create an environment for them as close as possible to real life where they can engage, communicate and expand their options if possible,” she says.

Apostol, who’s from Bucharest, Romania, says CAUSE has helped her develop more patience, tolerance and understanding. CAUSE has taught her to invest time in someone else, a choice that has been rewarded with flowers and hugs from participants.

“It’s helped me develop my skills, my awareness,” the business major says. “I’m different from them and they’re different from you, but still, we’re in the same game, right? We are all humans, and we all have to play by the same rules. We just have to adjust.”

Filbert especially enjoys the experience because she has family members with developmental disabilities. Because Filbert is majoring in physical therapy, CAUSE also helps to prepare her for her future profession. “You always hear of stigmas of people with developmental disabilities, and you can understand the concept of what they go through,” she says. “But until you’re actually in it and you’re talking with them face-to-face, you realize they’re just stigmas.”

More Acts of Kindness

Alma is up for a little friendly competition: This spring, Alma earned the Division III award in the 2018 NCAA Team Works Helper Helper Community Service Competition. The Alma Student-Athlete Advisory Committee encouraged all of its student-athletes to get out in the community and serve others. The school logged 1,900 hours of community service from the start of the competition in January through its finish in March. This is the first year that Division III has participated in the competition.

Commodores have a field day: Vanderbilt Athletics Director David Williams, the outgoing chairman of the Nashville Public Education Foundation, found that 18 elementary schools in the Nashville, Tennessee, area were without a library. He was so affected by the statistic that he and the Vanderbilt athletics department committed to funding a library for Buena Vista Elementary, which led to a unique partnership. Vanderbilt student-athletes and staffers have participated in various volunteer opportunities at Buena Vista, and recently Vanderbilt hosted Buena Vista’s third- and fourth-graders for a field day.

Court of honor: Georgian Court student-athletes took first-place honors in the Division II category of the 2018 NCAA Team Works Helper Helper Community Service Competition for the second time. The Lions tallied 2,700 service hours from January through March by participating in events with more than 20 nonprofit organizations, including Make-A-Wish. One of the biggest events during the semester was the National Girls and Women in Sports Day. A contingent of 191 Georgian Court athletes participated in service activities in celebration of the day.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.