Today was one for the books. I had the opportunity to provide a unique and personal experience to a group of kids that will likely change their lives forever. Being involved with the Special Olympics and working with kids with special needs is something I am incredibly passionate about, so when the idea of providing a day on the water for Austen’s Autistic Adventures, a local nonprofit that I have partnered with for the last two years, I was all in! AAA is an organization that provides services and support for teens and young adults on the autism spectrum. They do everything from day trips, to job shadowing and placement.
Weeks prior I began to think of ways to accomplish this while being able to provide a sensory safe, and friendly environment for them to participate. I reached out to Jason at ACK to see about securing boats. This would likely be the most important piece of this puzzle as this would likely be the first time these kids had ever been in a kayak. I wanted to be sure we used the most stable platforms available, and Jason wasted no time gathering the industries best for this event. With the help of Steve, the owner of Private Water Fishing we secured a private lake for the day. This would allow the kids and their families uninterrupted time to enjoy themselves and build confidence in a less busy environment.
The big day! It started with a little rain that I feared may sabotage the entire thing, but it let off after about an hour and the first guests began arriving. Justin was first up and eager to give it a try, so we got him in a Big Fish 120. Though it was his first time he took instruction very easily and you could tell he was soaking up every word. After a few minutes of safety overview, he was off! Watching him cut through the water like a knife for the first time was a sight to see. He was a natural! As the day progressed more kids and their families began to arrive, and one by one like the others before them they all took to the water.
Seeing the joy in their faces as some overcame fear, uncertainty, and watching their confidence build as their parents cheered and watched from the bank is the best feeling in the world. It goes to say, the saying “Anything you put your mind to, you can accomplish” holds true. These kids were hooked! Jason was an incredible help managing boats, and kids to ensure they were safely entering and exiting the water. He spent countless moments paddling alongside kids coaching and boosting their confidence! He was a major key to the success of this day, and I can’t thank him enough for it.
We provided lunch for everyone courtesy of David from NRS via Jimmy Johns and presented Jamie and the organization with the check for all the funds we raised during our annual Autism Awareness T-shirt Campaign. Today is a day that I will carry with me forever and I look forward to doing it again next year!