Home Run Hitters International, Incorporated is the culmination of Dr. Deborah Carr’s efforts to provide venues that would meet needs of persons with cognitive communicative disorders. Dr. Carr had worked with students that were pre-linguistic and non-verbal for more than 15 years. She had seen the progress they made on a one-to-one basis, but was frustrated by the limited opportunities they had to practice and showcase these skills in non-curricular settings. Increased opportunities meant a need for additional activities and additional partners. Partners needed to be sensitive to the efforts made by these individuals, efforts not easily recognized by others as communicative in intent. Dr. Carr also wanted her students to be able to experience the world of relationships beyond that of the teacher & student. She wanted them to have exposure to high interest topics, exploring and examining things of interest with friends. She wanted them to be able to celebrate accomplishments and hear their friends and family brag.
Ms. Karen Ponce, a transition coordinator who had taught students with special needs for years, shared Dr. Carr’s philosophies, strategies, methodologies and goals. As she helped families plan for the adult-life of her students, Ms. Ponce believed that relationships played a key role in the quality of life for persons of any age. She also saw a need for students to be able to interact with others in their environment in meaningful ways. Therefore, as the groundwork was laid, activities were planned to accomplish the above goals.
Camp MI Way made its first official appearance as an attempt to fulfill these identified needs. A library was transformed into a camp for a handful of students with multiple impairments. Ms. Ponce’s two children, Tim and Beth, helped create the camp environment that was required; designing a mountain, cave, waterfall, tent, camp fire and camp song. Volunteers were solicited so that each camper could have a personal counselor focused completely on their interests. The counselors responded to the requests made by the campers as they used voice output communication aids while they explored and enjoyed the camp together.
From these humble beginnings, Camp MI Way has grown into a huge one-month event. Approximately 80 campers participate each summer, hosted by 30-40 teenage volunteer counselors from around the city. The camp is no longer set-up in the library, but has moved to a transportable building with a huge porch and a field outside. Campers enjoy splashing in the waterfall pool while under a misting canopy, telling stories in the tent, exploring a dark cave and hanging out in the game room. There is even a camp store where campers and counselors enjoy crushing ice and making slushies.
Other ideas flickered into existence as Dr. Carr created a community service event named Switch-A-Thon. Participants with disabilities paired with volunteer cheer captains, approached individuals in their environment to solicit pledges. They used movements, vocalizations, signs, words and sentences. The competition was designed to increase partners, identify areas of interest and display independence of individuals with special abilities as they raised money to benefit others. Each participant was encouraged to pour on the steam and give their all as they hit switches to activate fans, turn on lights, play music, direct behavior of others, etc. The number of participants grew each year as Switch-A-Thon became better known. What an exciting opportunity for those individuals who are typically recipients of funds raised for charity now to be using their independent skills to contribute to someone else. While these two events were exciting and satisfying, there was an additional activity being developed, a club. Realizing more was needed to provide opportunities that could lead to greater exposure, as well as, increased levels of interaction and engagement with a variety of people. The club, originally the “Switch Hitters” was expanded in form and purpose. With the expansion came the name change to “Home Run Hitters”.
The Home Run Hitters Club activities are based on a baseball theme. Members of the club are paired with volunteers to play a special type of baseball – “The Home Run Hitter Game”. The game is based on the player’s efforts. Breathing patterns, facial expressions, body movement, head movement, eye movement, vocalizations, words, The Home Run Hitters Club activities are based on a baseball theme. Members of the club are paired with volunteers to play a special type of baseball – “The Home Run Hitter Game”. The game is based on the player’s efforts. Breathing patterns, facial expressions, body movement, head movement, eye movement, vocalizations, words, phrases, etc. are important to game success, base hits and home runs. Each season is complimented by a myriad of special events as well.
All of the programs that Home Run Hitters Int’l sponsors, Camp MI Way, Switch-A-Thon, and the Home Run Hitters Club are completely portable. Several campuses have participated in these events and more interest is being expressed. The possibilities are endless, potential participants are numerous, and the volunteers are anxiously awaiting solicitation. Future plans are huge and we can hardly wait to get there.