Miracle League of Arkansas
City: Little Rock
Category: Nonprofit Executive of the Year
Like most moms, Peggy McCall cherished the memories made when she attended her son's kickball games. She thought all parents should have the opportunity to make memories with their children, including those whose children were disabled.
With the considerable help of the Rotary Club of Little Rock, McCall started the Miracle League of Arkansas, which played its first game in 2006. The league sponsors a seven-week season during which disabled children learn to play the great American game. It is open to children 4 and older and includes children with a broad range of physical and mental disabilities. As the league says:
"Our spectrum includes kids that are very high-functioning autistic to the child who is blind and deaf needing 24/7 care and in a wheelchair. We have never had a child unable to be successful at our field."
The children, with the help of volunteer "buddies," play on a special field, one designed to protect participants who may be blind or paraplegic. In addition, the rules emphasize the social and confidence-building aspects of the game. That means every player bats once each inning and each team and player wins every game.
The Miracle League of Arkansas now has fields in Springdale (accomplished with the help of the Rotary Club of Springdale) as well as Little Rock and serves more than 500 players annually. The players are paired with some 3,800 volunteers.
McCall called the experience of watching the kids and their parents "magical." "The parents so appreciate our attitude toward their child, their player. It's like they're not disabled when they show up at the ball field."
But the parents and their children are hardly the only ones who benefit from the action. "One of the greatest gifts our league gives to the community is that volunteer experience," she said. The buddies are often junior and senior high-age youths who through the program learn to be more accepting of people who are different.
McCall loves to see the transformation Miracle League can accomplish, watching as children evolve from hesitant, diffident players to stars. "They come out and command the field. It's their ballpark and it's their game."