HANOVER, Va. (WWBT) – Sports can play an important role in a child’s development, but it can be difficult to find a league to join for kids with special needs.

Cool Spring Baptist Church of Hanover County offers this opportunity. The church has a recreation center attached to the building, with a full basketball court.

The installation has been a saving grace for so many families in the area.

The church uses the space to run the Compass Sports Challenger League, a league for children and adults with special needs.

It’s a much-needed place of refuge for Jennifer Barnum and her son, Eli, who is on the autism spectrum.

“What people don’t realize is that kids with special needs don’t have the same opportunities as other typical kids. Our children love sports. They like to move; they enjoy being with their peers there. So it’s so wonderful that it’s a safe environment, and people of all different abilities can come together, have a lot of fun, learn skills on the job, and just develop friendships, and that’s so important to our children,” Jennifer said. .

Dean is Eli’s friend and they have been together in the league for several years.

“One of the loneliest things about being in the special needs community is that you’re isolated in many ways, and it’s an opportunity to feel like everything is normal, it’s just another day. , that’s what other kids do. You embrace kids on all levels, making them feel good,” said Connie Deved, Dean’s mom.

None of this would be possible without the leadership of Challenger Sports Director Ashley White.

“It’s just the safe space that we create where they feel free to be themselves and be who they are without inhibitions, and everyone is there to love them and accept them, and I think that everyone feels it,” White says.

With the help of 150 volunteers and a management team made up of people like Becki Riley, they are able to offer a season of basketball, soccer and cheerleading.

“It’s just amazing to see their confidence grow, their skill progression, but also to witness the real life friendships they make,” says White.

“I tell people all the time that these kids are living their lives at full throttle, so their fun and excitement. It’s contagious, it’s contagious,” Riley says.

These are all the reasons Jennifer and Connie wanted to reward Ashley with the NBC12 Acts of Kindness, which comes with $300 and a $50 gift card to Mexico Restaurant.

As if Ashely wasn’t awesome enough, she no longer lives in Hanover County. North Carolina is her home, but she commutes every weekend for the games.

“There’s nothing that makes me feel like Challenger Sports does it on a Friday night. I don’t get that fulfillment anywhere else, and it would have been impossible to give it up and not continue. Those kids in worth the effort; they are worth the 2 1/2 hour drive each way,” says White.

It’s clear, the Compass Sports Challenger League is an incredible program, run by incredible people, investing in the lives of incredible kids.

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