After witnessing a lack of recreational opportunities for children with disabilities, including his son, Adam, 29, who was born with Down syndrome, JCC of the Greater Five Towns Assistant Executive Director David Weingarten launched the “Play Golf” program at the Lawrence Yacht & Country Club last fall.
“This program was developed to satisfy many needs — individual’s self esteem, socialization and physical fitness, along with a respite opportunity for parents,” Weingarten said. “Another benefit has been exposing our volunteers to individuals with disabilities and focusing on their abilities, not disabilities.”
A dedicated group of 12 to 15 volunteers and golf professionals work with 12 golfers, ages 10 to 23, who range in disabilities from Autism to Down syndrome every Sunday from 3 to 4 p.m. for six to eight sessions, weather permitting, at the Lawrence Yacht & Country Club. The program is funded by a Sports for Youth grant from the UJA-Federation of New York.
Malverne resident Janine Maser volunteered for the program after learning about it from her father, who is a member of the Lawrence Yacht & Country Club. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in school psychology at Brooklyn College. “I enjoy seeing the excitement the kids have as they play golf and interact with the volunteers,” Maser said. “I think the children get so many things out of the program; they get to have a day dedicated to them so they can have fun, feel good about themselves and they develop a sense of adequacy as they participate and learn a skill that is quite challenging.”
Weingarten asked Jeffrey Calais, the assistant golf pro at the Lawrence Yacht & Country Club, to direct the “Play Golf” program in 2012. “I felt that it would be a great opportunity to give back to the community,” Calais said. “I was thrilled to be a part of this program and to pass on knowledge to these kids and teach them life lessons along the way. It’s a pretty special feeling when you can make a connection with a young person.”
Plans are in the works to expand the program to four other golf clubs in the Five Towns area, Weingarten said. “I’m looking to build it in the Five Towns community so we could travel to different clubs on an ongoing basis,” he said. “It’s a great community thing and we have plenty of people we could open this up to.”
Maser said she hopes to see the program grow so more children can have the opportunity to learn golf and interact with other participants and volunteers. “It really makes the children’s day knowing that they can participate in an activity like golf and have volunteers who want to dedicate their time to them, even if it’s only for an hour,” she said. “Any kind of time given to these kids makes a big difference in their lives.”
To volunteer or register your child for the “Play Golf” program, contact Weingarten at (516) 569-6733.