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Photo by Sarah Cook.
Therapeutic Specialist Andrew Pinkerton, left, and Recreation Marketing Manager Morgan VonBehren, right, and both work closely with the Hoover Rec’s therapeutic program. Pinkerton, who recently was promoted to therapeutic specialist, has been with the program since he was in high school. Aside from recreation, the program also teaches social skills and money management.
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Photo courtesy of Andrew Pinkerton.
Colton Murdoch, Nikki Rogers and Mary Martin Nelson.
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Photo courtesy of Andrew Pinkerton.
Hitting a target with a bow and arrow or successfully hooking a worm on a fishing rod may seem like small tasks. But for those who participate in the Hoover Recreation Center’s therapeutic program, these small tasks are immense victories.
For more than 20 years, adults and teenagers with special needs from within the city of Hoover and well outside city limits have made drastic improvements in their social and physical skills by participating in therapeutic classes at the recreation center.
Andrew Pinkerton, who has worked with the therapeutic program since he was a senior at Hoover High School, said the program offers a vital service — a service that is unmatched in many ways.
“I think it’s huge just for the sake of recreation,” said Pinkerton, who started off as a volunteer with the program and is now a therapeutic specialist. “It promotes a healthy and active lifestyle. When most of these kids graduate high school, they have the choice of pursuing something or being institutionalized in their own house, which decreases any kind of developmental gains they’ve made.”
Through engaging participants in recreation, the therapeutic program is designed to improve physical and mental skills for those with special needs. Pinkerton said the program’s service spectrum is broad.
Most participants have Down syndrome or autism, but the program doesn’t discriminate against any specific type of disability, he said.
Some of the participants have been in the program since it started, Pinkerton said.
“I think the demand for this is huge and will always be needed,” he said.
Some of the sports provided through the program include swimming, basketball, volleyball, softball and, most recently, archery. Seeing participants improve on and master their archery skills has been a joy to watch, Pinkerton said.
“They’ve really excelled at it,” he said. “There’s such an instant gratification in hitting the target, hitting the bull’s eye.”
The group recently visited Nashville. Traveling throughout the region for special events is one of the many perks provided by the therapeutic program. The program works to challenge participants by getting members to travel and improve their social skills.
“Anything goal oriented that we can work towards, that’s what we emphasize,” Pinkerton said.
For adult participants, social independence is a target skill. Money management and learning how to work in certain service industries are just a few of the areas covered in the program.
Morgan VonBehren, recreation marketing manager for the city’s parks and recreation department, said she’s seen the program grow immensely in a short period of time.
“This program is just something really neat,” said VonBehren, who has worked for the city for almost two years. “There are so many people in the program who don’t even live in the city of Hoover. They travel distances just because we have this program, and their cities don’t.”
Because the program has proven itself effective for so many years, Pinkerton said there’s little need to advertise. Most people learn about the program simply though word of mouth or by visiting the Hoover Rec’s website.
“The program is probably the biggest it’s ever been,” Pinkerton said.
And while seeing participants reach their goals and learn new skills are some of the most rewarding aspects of working for the therapeutic program, Pinkerton admitted he learns from the participants, too.
“It’s like a friendship, but at the same time, you’re like their coach, their leader,” Pinkerton said. He can still recall the first time he volunteered with the program when he was in high school.
“My first class was extremely overwhelming because I was and still am a lot younger than all of them,” he said. “But they just accepted me and treated me as a leader. I just kind of dove right into it.”
When considering the program’s future, both Pinkerton and VonBehren said they only expect numbers to grow. And since the program strives to keep a low coach-to-participant ratio, VonBehren said they’re always in need of volunteers.
“You learn something new every day here,” Pinkerton said. “No day is ever the same.”