At ABC Law Centers, we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to get out in the community and see how individual programs for kids with disabilities are run. We like to recommend local programs to our clients, and, this past October, we had the opportunity to help volunteer at the Miracle League of Michigan. It’s a great program – we highly recommend that parents with kids with disabilities (physical, cognitive, or intellectual) check them out!
Miracle League of Michigan helps kids with all kinds of disabilities play baseball just like their peers. The program, which began in 2004, stresses inclusion and community spirit, helping kids have fun playing baseball. The non-competitive division helps kids ages four and up get the experience of playing baseball with their peers.
One of the program’s unique aspects is the use of a ‘buddy system,’ where each player is teamed up with an individual without disabilities who can help them play – whether it’s helping with form, running bases, or making sure they aren’t injured while playing. The league gives each player the opportunity to hit the ball and run bases, and – in the non-competitive leagues – there are no ‘outs.’ The League fosters self-esteem, helps kids make friends, and is a great way for children to be treated just like anyone else their age. The program uses adaptive plastic bats and slightly softer safety balls; no score is kept, making the game a fun and low-stress activity for participants.
Our Volunteering Session with Miracle League
So, what did our volunteering session look like?
We came in about 20 minutes before the game was due to start, so we had an opportunity to see how volunteers and staff conducted setup – preparing food, stocking the concession stand, getting equipment and balls in place, and directing volunteers. Once participants started gathering, volunteers were given a brief but thorough orientation on expectations, protocols, and the typical structure of a game, especially focusing on how the rules were modified to accommodate all kinds of disabilities – physical, behavioral, visual, and more! Volunteers split into two groups and paired up with players, and the games (two innings each) were underway. Each game lasted about an hour, and the day was structured around two games with a 20-minute break in between.
Announcer Vic Doucette introduced each child by name when they went up to bat, providing hype and commentary throughout the whole session. We had the opportunity to briefly speak with him after the game, and he remarked, “I wish we had had a program like this back when I was a kid!” He gestures at his walker. “If it had been around then, I would’ve been a member.” He has been a key member of the program since its inception in 2004, ensuring children playing in the Miracle League get a Major League Baseball experience.
Observations from the Volunteers
Volunteer Jesse Reiter remarked, “One of the things I noticed most when it came to the game was how much the kids helped each other – kids with less severe disabilities helped those with less mobility, and you could really see these kids building strong friendships with each other – high-fiving, cheering, congratulating each other – it’s clear they’ve known each other for a very long time…It’s great to see that! And it presents a great opportunity for parents, too! We saw parents sharing resources while their kids had fun safely, and that’s wonderful to see.”
Volunteer Ewa Pasik explains her interest in the program: “My brother is the founder and coordinator of the MSU Adaptive Sports and Recreation Club and I’ve been attending those events and some practices for some time now. That program – for the time being – is just for participants 18 years of age or older…I was always interested in the kinds of programs available for younger kids, and the Miracle League seems like a great way to keep kids active and social!”
Another volunteer remembers a prior conversation with Miracle League showrunners: “The effort they put into the program is amazing! From what I understand, the City of Southfield donated the land, but Steve [the program manager] was in charge of single-handedly raising $1 million to help build the field. When I heard the program expanded to 7 days a week – and more than 400 kids – I was blown away. He knows every child by name and tailors the game to their needs. It’s a great group. I can’t wait to come back.
Volunteer with the Miracle League of Michigan!
Volunteering with the Miracle League is easy and fun! The site has a portal for participants to sign up for sessions, so check it out! A lot of people are sometimes a bit apprehensive because they haven’t spent much time around individuals with disabilities, but there are many personal and interpersonal benefits to volunteering – it can help you learn about the world around you, understand how policy affects available opportunities for specific populations, and help break down stereotypes stemming from a lack of information.
There’s also a common misconception that you have to have extensive background experience to volunteer your time to work with individuals with disabilities. No prior experience is necessary to participate as a volunteer, and an orientation is provided at the beginning of each game day!