01 Mar Kathmere Kares: Athletes Helping Athletes: Local Students Connect through Compassion and Inspiration
From the team at Kathmere Capital Management, it’s our pleasure to introduce the first edition of Kathmere Kares. This will be a quarterly segment where one of our team member’s share stories and spread the word about an organization or charity that we truly care about. I gladly volunteered to write our first article about one organization that is near and dear to my heart, Athletes Helping Athletes, Inc. Over the course of this article, I’d like to take you through how the organization has grown in the last 15 years, and how it has touched so many lives in the area. I’ve been involved with Athletes Helping Athletes since its beginning, and I’ve had the pleasure to witness the growth from starting out in one high school in Bucks County to 34 area high schools and 9 Universities.
What is Athlete’s Helping Athletes? It’s plainly defined in their mission statement: “To connect local special needs athletes with mainstream student-athletes in a spirit of friendship for their mutual benefit and inspiration”. AHA believes that a world of greater acceptance for all can begin with our children, sharing athletic experiences and a love for sports while developing compassion and mutual respect. You only have to look at its distinct programs to see how AHA does a masterful job in connecting both groups.
The Honorary Captain program allows special needs athletes to feel as though they are a part of the team during games. Honorary Captains are assigned to each game, and are able to join the high school and college athlete captains in the coin toss or pre-game captain’s meeting. To make their night even more unforgettable, their names are announced to the crowd and they are given a medal by the athletes or coaching staff. There are multiple sports that include Honorary Captains into their routine; football, basketball, soccer, tennis, and lacrosse. There’s even an equestrian program!
It’s so incredible to see how the Honorary Captain program bonds players and coaches with the AHA athletes during each competition. Many of the athletes will cheer along with the team by sitting on or close to the team’s bench during the game. AHA Fun Nights and clinics run throughout the year focusing on one sport at a time. It’s an evening where hundreds of special needs athletes and high school/college volunteers break up into groups and conduct drill stations followed by a medal ceremony. The Fun Nights have become fantastic events that will have everyone leave the gym with a huge smile on their face.
To further explain the impact AHA has had on our area, I sat down with Rick Leonetti, Founder of Athlete’s Helping Athlete’s Inc: What are some of the special moments that stick out in the last 15 years?
“Just watching the interactions between the special needs children and young adults, and the high school/college student-athletes. When we started this, we knew it would benefit the special needs population, but we had no idea the impact that it would have on our high school/college student athletes. So, to witness some of the mini miracles shared between the two groups is more than satisfying.”
The AHA interaction had always brought as much joy to me as it had with the special needs athlete. During a football, basketball or baseball fun night, volunteers will exchange high fives, they will cheer along with the athletes and share in the thrill of attempting a throw or catch, a shot or pass. But this interaction is not about winning or losing, it’s about friendship, compassion and having fun. Although my athletic career is a distant memory, I have stayed involved with AHA as a volunteer coach during the Fun Nights and Clinics. One of my favorite events each year is the AHA Thanksgiving Weekend Football Clinic that follows a Turkey-Bowl rivalry football game between my Council Rock High School classmates. The game started as a way for friends to get together during the Thanksgiving weekend, but has morphed into a great fundraising event and football clinic for Athletes Helping Athletes.
See Video Link below, courtesy of The Bucks County Courier Times
Besides the Honorary Captain program and Fun Night clinics, AHA raises money for many different Special Needs Athletic teams and programs. In the last 2015-16 calendar school year, AHA raised and donated over $52,000.00 to eleven different special needs athletic programs in our area. This year’s goal is $60,000.00 – and AHA would love to help more if they could!
When asked about the growth of Athletes Helping Athletes, Rick Leonetti explained:
“All I know is that we don’t “recruit” new schools. What generally happens is that an opposing team will love what the home team is doing and ask how they can get their teams involved. So, in another sense, it’s also “word of mouth,” where coaches, players, parents, share what they do with friends at other schools. Our University presence is due solely from students that loved it so much in high school that they take it to their college. Getting to the decision makers at Division One schools is difficult, but we try our best to find someone we know to champion our cause. This AHA interaction is wonderful and I’d like to see it or some form of it in every school across the country.”
AHA has become a welcomed addition for the youth in our area. The organization has in no doubt helped change the perspective on the lives of the high school kids who volunteer. Without the dedication of the countless student volunteers, board members and coaches, AHA would not be what it is today. It only seems appropriate that when Rick Leonetti has a microphone in his hand during an AHA event you can pretty much guarantee he will be doing his rendition of Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”; smiles all around while he attempts his best Louie Armstrong impression. And when you look around at all the enjoyment on the participants’ faces, you realize he’s right, because when you think to yourself, what a wonderful world Athlete’s Helping Athlete’s has created in our community.
Interested in volunteering or donating to Athletes Helping Athletes? Please visit their website at www.aha-inc.com.