Written by Nina Mogilnik Friday, 01 July 2011 00:00Some days raising a special needs child are really bad days. They are the days when you doubt your abilities as a parent, when you lapse into despair about your child’s future. No one but a fellow parent on the same journey can begin to understand. But then you have a day like I did on June 5, 2011, and it’s as if everything has shifted, and the only things you feel are gratitude and joy.
Sunday, June 5 was the day of the Special Olympics basketball tournament hosted by Great Neck’s own Spirits basketball team. I arrived at Great Neck North’s gym right on time, at 9 a.m. I had my son, Noah Gold, with me, along with his older brother Sam and Sam’s friend, Chris Park. Another friend, Isaiah Levy, came separately. Noah was there to play, and Sam and his friends were there as volunteers.
I’m not sure it’s possible to describe well what it means to a parent like me—who is obligated to be with my special needs child—to see people who are not obligated come out to cheer him on, to coach him through the activities, and just to make the day a fun-filled, award-filled, clapping-filled one of good feeling and encouragement.
Noah’s not a competitive athlete; he doesn’t even understand the rules of a basketball game. But he’s a good shot, and can do fine with drills and skills, which is what he worked on. My friend Laurie’s son Ross is in the same boat, but has an even meaner shot than Noah. Whether they could play a full court game or “just” do drills and skills, all special athletes were welcomed and supported.
I’m not sure what motivates people who don’t live the 24/7 world of raising a special needs child to want to work with one in their spare time. What makes a businessman decide to spend his Friday nights with a group of men and women with special needs? What makes a high school guidance counselor choose to do the same? What motivates a group of Great Neck high school students to come out on those same Friday evenings and again early on a recent Sunday morning to make Noah, Ross and all the others feel so welcome, so embraced, so appreciated? I think it must simply be that giving people who don’t always, or easily, belong, a chance to do just that is enormously gratifying.
As a parent whose child is on the receiving end of those gestures of good will, caring, and inclusiveness, I just want to offer a thank you, however inadequate, to everyone who showed up on the morning of June 5. And though I’m missing some folks for sure, I want to offer a special thank you to the extraordinary coaches of the Spirits: Ed Fernbach, Shelley Greenbaum, Jordana Cohen, Chris Brown, Alan Someck, Eric Goldstein, Jackie Mazur, Michelle Murphy and Diane Polland. I also want to congratulate this year’s winners of the Joan Gruenbaum Athlete of the Year Award, Jeff Corwin and Ronny Helig, as well as the newest award winners, Volunteers of the Year Danielle Polland and Justin Sachmechi.