No More Sidelines (NMS) began when a determined mother, Cyndi Blair, decided to do something about the tears her daughter shed because she had no friends of “her own.” Alivia lives daily with cerebral palsy, autism, and cognitive delays. There were no systems to help Alivia to make friends. How sad it was for a little girl not to be invited to a “sleep-over” or to get a birthday card from a friend.
While several organizations exist that advocate for special needs children, these organizations either narrowly define their participants, or focus on medical research, social service, and advocacy for special needs populations. There is no similar organization to No More Sidelines which invites in children and their families, who face many different types of developmental challenges, and focuses on Fun, Friends, Socialization, and Support.
In 2005, Cyndi recruited six other children with special needs, and their families, and proceeded to make plans to have some fun together. A year later, the six turned into nearly 60, and today, nearly 300 children and young adults have active social schedules. They are integrated into the community; playing basketball, soccer, softball, swimming, bowling, bocce ball, hockey, golf, roller skating, and track and field, and participating in parades, parties and dances, attending sporting events (and meeting the teams, including the Harlem Globetrotters!), going on cruises and nature trips, to symphonies, to the movies and the zoo, ATV races, fishing, camping, local festivals and events, and more.
But NMS is far more than an organization dedicated to integrating children with special needs into the community, and providing opportunities where the children can have fun. NMS is an organization where participants and their families develop friendships and a sense of belonging. Parents meet other parents and know they are not alone. Children are happier and gain a sense of accomplishment and confidence. Children are proud to participate and develop a positive attitude, and families become closer. Statements from a few shed greater light on the true meaning of No More Sidelines, and the outcomes that NMS provides:
- “It means our kids don’t have to stand on the sidelines.”
- “My kids feel equal.”
- “It gave me friends and a life.”
- “I have friends to come to my birthday party.”
- “It makes me feel like we live in a normal world.”
- “A chance to cheer for my son.”
- “Emotional support – I see other people with problems and how to solve them.”
- “The encouragement, no matter what.”
- “When our kids got on that big field at Fruitport High, you could feel the goosebumps.”
- “It’s kind of like a therapy session for all of us.”
For the majority population of children, the opportunity to engage with other children with special needs increases their understanding and tolerance for the many differences in people, stretches their ability to empathize with those who are not as strong, and grows their hearts.
No More Sidelines currently operates through networks of partnerships and relationships. There is no central organization or physical location. While the networks and partnerships that have been so successful will continue, NMS has grown to the point where it needs a central place to: increase program options; go out into West Michigan; and to build a franchise network nationwide.
The organization is totally volunteer. In recent months, NMS has been contacted about how this successful model can be replicated for the benefit of children, families, and communities in other locations in Michigan.
No More Sidelines of Kent County
Karen Larsen and her husband had an opportunity to meet Cyndi Blair at Muskegon fundraiser. Being a special education teacher, Karen shares her passion and compassion for special needs children and young adults to be accepted members of their community. They have founded the Kent County chapter of NMS and look forward to its growth with new members joining every week.