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If you walk into the Strike and Spare West Bowling Alley on any given Saturday morning, you will find it hustling and bustling with about 60 individuals that participate in the YMCA’s Saturday Strikers Bowling Program. This program is more than just bowling; it is an opportunity the Y has used for over 30 years to provide those with special needs a chance to grow and develop new skills. This program provides 42 weeks of bowling at no cost to its bowlers. In some circumstances, the program also pays for transportation to the bowling alley. This is all funded through donations to our Strong Kids Campaign.

There are so many that benefit from this program. Three such individuals are Jerry, Rebecca and Renee.

Jerry is a 10 year old boy who has been diagnosed as developmentally delayed with attention deficit disorder. His adoptive parents say that being in school was hard on him because he was bullied for being different than his classmates. They made the decision to have him home-schooled by his sister. Although Jerry’s family has been Y members since 2010, they only recently enrolled him in the bowling program.

Jerry is quite a bit younger than most of the bowlers in this program, however, he gets along famously with everyone. He often encourages others to do their best either by a shout-out or high-five. His parents have seen a dramatic difference in him since he has started this program. The highlight of his week is coming every Saturday to meet up with his friends and play the sport he loves. As his confidence grows, so does his independence. His parents feel this was one of the best decisions they have ever made for him.

Renee is a 41 year old woman who has been in the Saturday Strikers Bowling program for the last three years. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in high school which caused serious short-term memory loss. She records everything on her cell phone and frequently refers to it so she knows where she is expected to be and what she is supposed to be doing. Although Renee is independent and enjoys her job working for the State of Illinois, her real connection to others is through this bowling program. She says the bowling program has empowered her, giving her more confidence and self-esteem. She grew up knowing she is a little different but with this group she sees that she is just like everyone else.

Rebecca is a 40 year old woman who spent a lot of time as a young child in and out of residential institutions. She was taken away from her mother at a very young age and luckily landed with her current parents who love and care for her. When they adopted her at age 15, life was extremely difficult and it took a long time for everyone to adjust to their new roles. Rebecca had anger issues, but her adoptive parents have helped her learn the skills she needs to deal with these issues. One of Rebecca’s biggest challenges is organization, so when she organized her bowling team to compete in the Special Olympics, her mom was ecstatic. Rebecca and Renee, along with two others, brought home a Gold Medal last year. They are looking forward to competing again this year and are hopeful they will be just as successful.
Jill Steiner, Human Resource Director for the Y, has led this program for ten years. She says, “Each individual brings something unique to the program and, together, all the bowlers make every day so much brighter. Each of the bowlers, their families, their support and caregivers, and our many friends of bowlers give it life, purpose and a very bright future.”

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