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Santa Barbara adapts recreation to suit needs of disabled citizens.

How do wheelchair road racers fly past spectators, using only their arms for power and determination for legs?

In California, the city of Santa Barbara's Parks and Recreation Department and the Adaptive Recreation staff have been working with some of the answers to that question for more than ten years.

According to program supervisor Mariana de Sena, over a decade ago, a wheelchair recreation program was started in an effort to supply a competitive reason for people who are physically challenged to reach for the stars, and gather a few trophies for their efforts as their self-esteem grew.

It was the hope of the staff to |adapt' existing recreation activities and equipment to the capabilities of program participants. Hence. Adaptive Recreation Programs.

Over the years the program has positively enhanced the quality of life for hundreds of participants, allowing them to continue to pursue many of life's difficult goals, with a sense of pride and accomplishment each step (or wheel) of the way.

Sena, a certified recreational therapist, has worked for the Parks and Recreation Department during the development of the Adaptive Recreation Program. first as a part time coordinator, and currently as the program's supervisor and special events director.

"The key to the program's success is the community commitment to adaptive recreation in general," says Sena. "Not only do we have an active advisory board but many of our needs are met by dove tailing with other non-profits such as the YMCA."

In addition, Sena says that with continual community recognition, such as the Athletic Round Table weekly luncheons and media participation, the athletes are encouraged to compete and feel an important part of the city's mainstream competitive talent pool.

"I felt honored and thrilled to be introduced as the "athlete of the week," at the luncheon. The media did an interview and my photo was in the paper, plus I was on television that night. Now that's recognition," exclaims quad rugby champ and Blister Bowl player, Steve Pate. Pate has gone from participant to camp counselor and is currently enrolled in a recreation therapy certification program at Chico State University in Northern California.

A wide range of activities are offered to clients year-round through the department in concert with local co-sponsors. Recreation opportunities and sports offered include: adapted aquatics, quad-rugby, wheelchair basketball, road racing, tennis, racquetball and a yearly football tournament, called the Blister Bowl.

The Blister Bowl offers men and women an opportunity to play football using a tag-format on a scaled-down regulation field. The game features volunteer referees and of course, cheerleaders on the sidelines.

"I really love being a volunteer at the annual Blister Bowl," says off-duty county sheriff, Eric George. "Each year I get more involved with the Adaptive Recreation Program. Currently, my son and daughter help with the summer day camp. It's getting to be a family tradition." Because of his work schedule, George has been a supportive volunteer for over five years.

The summer Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp is offered to physically challenged youth ages five through 18. Sports such as kayaking, archery, basketball, hockey, tennis and swimming are introduced during the week.

Adult wheelchair athletes provide counseling and instruction, serving as positive role models. Counselors urge campers to continue their training after camp is over. Youth are encouraged to enter local, state-wide and national sports competitions.

All wheelchair campers are treated to scholarships, thanks to the kindness and generosity of many volunteers, local merchants, non-profit organizations and community groups.

In addition to an array of sports, Santa Barbara's Adaptive Recreation program features social outings which include dinner cruises and amusement trips.

A bi-monthly newsletter, printed and distributed by the Parks and Recreation Department, features social, sports and counseling opportunities offered to participants with limited physical capabilities in the local area.

Recently, the California Parks and Recreation Society honored the Santa Barbara Adaptive Recreation Program with three awards at an annual professional conference. The Award of Merit in Media Communications at the "Agency Showcase" featured a 12-minute video of the Adaptive Recreation Program, its volunteers and participants.

A Certificate of Merit was given to acknowledge the 11th Annual Wheelchair Sports Festival held in 1992 (this year it's slated in conjunction with the city's summer sports festival: July 2-11). The tennis division of the festival has gained sanction status, and is now one of the most popular stops for wheelchair tennis competitors as they make the circuit.

A third award was given to the program which invites Sena to sit on the California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility. The Adaptive Recreation Programs met 13 of a 21-point criteria for placement. Criteria such as giving personal attention, affirming personal unique worth, attending to physical health, developing basic skills plus cooperating and health competition were just a few of the points met.

As in many of the nation's cities, 1992-93 budget cuts have threatened the program, but the active "Adaptive Program Advisory Board," which consists of many wheelchair athletes, has continued to raise funds and keep the program participant's needs in the forefront. Also, the program supervisor works very closely with the business community in a year-round effort to fund up-coming events and activities.

Sena adds that raising self-esteem through cooperative program implementation and dedication has made the Adaptive Recreation Program an important ingredient in building a quality of life for Santa Barbara's program participants. "Keeping in tune with the needs of the disabled community is a proactive approach to meeting the standards set through the Americans With Disabilities Act," she states.

In the next few months the nation's cities and agencies will move towards A.D.A. compliance. However, Santa Barbara's Adaptive Recreation Program staff plans to complete the goal of recreation integration.

It's apparent that the A.D.A. has opened the door to more than just supplying ramps and widening doors to make buildings accessible, it has set the tone for offering a host of opportunities to some of our most talented, community-minded and socially responsible citizens.

Questions about Santa Barbara's Adaptive Recreation Program may be directed to Mariana de Sena by dialing (805) 962-1474.
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Title Annotation:Santa Barbara, California
Author:Kistler, Patricia
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jun 21, 1993
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