CLEVELAND — We're so excited to launch a new series partnering 3News anchor Jay Crawford with our good friend - and WKYC Contributor Matt Kaulig.
It's called "The Power of Inspiration," and Matt and Jay will be shining a light on individuals and organizations doing important work to help others in Northeast Ohio. Stay tuned monthly for more inspiring stories.
If you paid a visit the basketball court at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy on a recent Wednesday evening - it would be hard to miss a display of teamwork, accomplishment and community.
This is Empower Sports - a non-profit offering year-round sports and exercise programs for individuals with disabilities.
"We're a fully inclusive program. So kids of any age, any disability or diagnosis," said Executive Director Tom Heines. "We just want kids to find a place where they can play, fit in, make friends, improve their social skills, improve their overall wellbeing, and just are accepted."
Heines, a self-proclaimed "sports junkie" began the program nearly ten years ago with a simple mission - the belief that every athlete should have an opportunity to participate in the games they love. Today, the 501c3 non-profit runs programs spanning the seasons – and the worlds of basketball, lacrosse and softball – bringing together more than 1200 participants each year.
Chris and Patty Gurreri's son David is a proud Empower athlete.
"The program that Tom put together with the guys has been phenomenal," Chris said. "They bring in typical kids to be mentors in these practices and our kids love hanging around with typical kids just as much as they do each other. They just have fun with them and if anybody wants to love on our kids, we're in."
"[David] is just so excited," his mom Patty added. "As soon as one session of this ends, he's asking for when the next one is coming. So it's just fun to have things to look forward to."
The Empower athletes say, they not only love getting to play the sports they love - but the community they've built here too.
"My favorite part about Empower Sports is I love being with everybody," said Joey Sorace. "I'm such a good friend, good teammate to everybody. I always help others. And that's why I'm that I will love empower."
Christina Petras says she also sees how this community is making a bigger impact with people across Northeast Ohio.
"My favorite part of Empower Sports is actually making people feel accepted and included," she said.
Attending a practice, it's hard not to feel the positive energy. Jay and Matt each stepped in to coach a team - and drum up some friendly competition. And with some impressive displays of basketball - The Power of Inspiration was on full display, lifting up these players and all who get involved.
"These kids have given so much more to myself and anyone that interacts with our programs, than we could out ever give back to them," Tom said. "The power is undeniable, the power of sports to bring diverse people together and make a difference in people's lives."
"Coach Tom and coach Jake, they do a good job with coaching me, like they're the best coaches that I can ever ask for." said Empower Athlete Tymerin Dennis. "This is just a place where, you know, I can come to just have fun and play basketball - the game that I love."
To find out more about Empower Sports, or get involved, visit EmpowerSports.org.