Local nonprofit North County Adaptive Sports Program, a partner of Cal Poly’s kinesiology department since 2012, received a $3,500 grant after being recognized for its virtual program.

The North County Adaptive Sports Program provides adapted physical activities for individuals living with developmental disabilities. The program serves participants or athletes from 14 to 70 years old throughout the Central Coast, and they engage in a variety of recreational activities such as basketball, volleyball and aquatics. 

The program works with kinesiology students, who volunteer as coaches for the program. Students apply knowledge from their major courses to connect with athletes as well as help improve athletes’ motor and team skills, according to program board member Ron Vasconcellos.

“[The program] is supposed to be an adapted sports and recreation program, but it’s so much more than that,” program coordinator and kinesiology alumna Jillian Zuck said. “A lot of times for the athletes, it’s social participation.” 

The athletic program also provides athletes and coaches alike with valuable social connection and community, especially during the coronavirus pandemic when in-person gatherings are limited, Zuck said.

As the coronavirus pandemic greatly reduced the types of physical activities the program could host, Zuck along with program coordinator and kinesiology alumni Katelyn Matheny had to think outside of the box to adapt activities to a virtual format.

Athletes now meet bi-weekly over Zoom and connect with other athletes and coaches through dancing, yoga and game nights.

“These sessions have been a blessing in the midst of [COVID-19],” Matheny said. “I think more than anything people need socialization and consistency and something to look forward to.”

However, transitioning to a virtual format was not an easy feat, as many athletes and their families were not familiar with Zoom and some did not have access to computers or mobile devices at all, Matheny said.

The $3,500 grant — which was awarded by community organization Paso Robles Elks Lodge — will provide the program with funding that will help athletes gain access to the program as well as equipment to engage in activities from home. The grant money will provide iPads for athletes who do not have computer access, yoga mats, aerobic bands for strength exercises and whiteboards that will help athletes participate in group games.

Zuck and Matheny said they have also tried to encourage more leadership from athletes during the virtual sessions, such as asking them to lead activities and collecting feedback from athletes on how the program can improve the experience for them.

“They know this program better than any of us,” Zuck said. “The activities are for them — let’s do what they want to do.”

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