Rounding home plate to its first full year in Bethlehem, the Sports Are For Everyone, or SAFE, program is finishing the year up hitting the links at the Colonie Golf and County Club before gearing up for fall soccer.
Founded in 1992 by Jim Fitzgerald in Clifton Park, the program couples student athletes with those with disabilities through various sports throughout the year. Fitzgerald began the program after his son asked him for help on teaching his friend how play baseball.
The other child had a disability, but once given the opportunity, encouragement and practice, began to excel at the sport.
The program uses student athletes to teach certain sports, act as a mentor to others, and foster a sense of sportsmanship and friendship all around.
SAFE, open to all children with disabilities regardless of residency, has been a huge success in Clifton Park and took root in Bethlehem after it caught the eye of a town councilman, according to Bethlehem Parks and Recreation Department administrative assistant Jason Gallo.
One of the town board members Sam Messina ` brought this program to our attention last year,` Gallo said. `We’ll be completing our first full year of our program at the end of this month.`
Gallo said the program elicited enough participants in its first year to hold soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and they attempted to put together a baseball program, which is a big draw for Fitzgerald in Clifton Park, but did not have enough kids this year.
`It’s still in its infancy here, but people are starting to find out about it,` said Gallo. `We’ve got soccer this fall, and we’re going to be going right at it again.`
The Bethlehem SAFE program did have a great golfing opportunity to offer kids this summer. George Hettie, a parent of one of the SAFE participants contacted the Colonie Golf and Country Club in Voorheesville about holding a SAFE program for golf.
Neil Manasse, one of five owners of the golf course, said SAFE has been a great program for everyone.
`We held it for two weeks, and we’re going to hold it for another two weeks. We have clubs right here for them or they can bring their own and we put on a little clinic,` Manasse said. `We’re very happy to help out and participate. They have some great kids who came over, and it was wonderful to see everyone having fun.`
Manasse said the kids took quickly to golfing.
`They’re quick learns and they can really hit ’em,` he said.
Hettie said the program has had a very positive affect not only on his son’s life, but his entire family’s.
`To me, as a parent, what really attracted me to the program is what they do is recruit some of the high school athletes,` said Hettie. `It helps build a relationship they’ll high-five each other in the hallway, and it makes those with disabilities feel more a part of the community.`
Hettie said his son previously went to Clifton Park to participate in SAFE and that before he went with his son to the Colonie Golf and Country Club, his son had never played golf before.
`They had some one-on-one with the kids to give them some tips and let them go on their own,` he said.
The Colonie Golf and Country Club will be hosting the SAFE golf program on Saturday, Aug. 8, and Saturday, Aug. 15, at 1:30 p.m.
Gallo said Bethlehem will be sending a brochure about the program to residents in mid August as it gears up for its soccer section of the year.
`Anybody who contacts us in grades two through 12 and has a child with special needs can sign up and register for the program,` said Gallo. There will also be information available on the town’s Web site under the Parks and Recreation Department, www.townofbethlehem.org.
Hettie said he would encourage parents of children with special needs to take a look at what SAFE has to offer.
`Bethlehem has quite a few children with special needs, and this is something that can really help make them a part of the community,` he said.