KNEA hosts “Back on Track” fundraiser to raise money for the disabled

Omar Yunes (left) poses by the Saddleback pool with his adapted kinesiology students (Photo courtesy of Michael Bennett)

Melanie Roberts

The adapted kinesiology department at Saddleback College is hosting their second wheel- and walk-a-thon fundraiser called “Back on Track,” on Dec. 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The event will take place in the stadium and raise money for the program and students with “severe and chronic disabilities.”

During the event, there will be a buffet lunch, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., a demonstration by the “Wounded Warriors” (veterans who were wounded in battle), student testimonials, and possibly a performance by a Zumba dancer.

Awards will also be given out for things like “most inspirational lap.”

Michael Bennett, an adapted kinesiology instructor said, “There won’t just be people walking, there will be people in wheel chairs or front wheel walkers doing laps. So we aren’t going for a pledge per lap, rather what we are trying to do is have people give pledges to the person individually.”

Mostly the effort has been through large quantities of small donations and a few big donors, according to Bennett.

Bennett is hoping to get half of the students as well as their caregivers and family members to come out.

“I’d like to say that we are going to have 200 people out there. Maybe more, maybe a little bit less,” Bennett said.

The adapted kinesiology program has been operating for over 25 years and the first fundraiser was held in 2009.

Omar Yunes, kinesiology instructor and adapted kinesiology specialist said, “Our college is based on state funding, and with the state crisis, it’s affecting all of us. There have been talks about offering less classes and less money to pay the helpers, and as you can see with students with disabilities just one instructor doesn’t make it happen.”

While they had hoped they wouldn’t have to have another fundraiser, funding for the program has diminished.

“We are running out of funds, so the idea of the fundraiser is to bring more money to our program so we can pay for helpers and even to accomodate the larger number of students that continue to join us each semester,” Yunes said.

Bennett said, “The general fund has been able to back fill a lot of the losses that we’ve had with the categorical funding. It’s still not enough, so we did the fundraiser three years ago and aimed to raise about $20,000 and we over did it and raised $28,000.”

While the money raised in 2009 kept them afloat until now, their financial situation has not improved and they need to raise more to support their trainers and pay for equipment.

“Without helpers, I can’t teach a class of about 48 students. It’s just not safe and the quality of the class is not as good,” Bennett said. “Unless I have folks that can physically help those that are generally most severely disabled, the class just can’t happen.”

According to Yunes, the program accommodates over 400 students and has students with a variety of disabilities from spina bifida to stroke victims. There is a class under the adapted umbrella for everyone.

“Most of our students have some sort of disability. We have students with disabilities since birth, students that acquire disabilities throughout life or even because of accidents. They can be 18 years old or 80 and needing assistance.”

With some students requiring one on one assistance, trainers are paid to work with them.

Yunes said the classes are a perfect environment for these students to socialize and see their disability in a more positive light. Seeing so many other people with disabilities, they realize that they are not the only ones and work together to help each other.

“It’s a very psychologically positive environment for them: socially, mentally, and emotionally,” Yunes said.

The program helps them out physically as well, since all the classes are kinesiology based. The physical exercises are however adapted to students with disabilities.

“Right now there is an open repeatability for disabled students, but that’s likely to change within the next couple of years. With all likelihood, there is going to be some reductions in the classes that we offer.” said Bennett.

Bennett and Yunes both feel they are going to have to continue this fundraiser annually.