One Rocky Point couple intends to give kids with disabilities a memorable summer.
It all started with Jenny Andersson’s daughter, 13-year-old Sarah Fabricatore, who has Down syndrome.
Andersson went up to her daughter’s reading teacher, Pete Costa, at the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point, to talk to him about the lack of athletic programs for students with disabilities — and Costa took it to heart.
As a result, the varsity girls’ soccer coach and his wife Jean take time out of their summers to host Rocky Point Athletes for All, a free, once-a-week, one-hour session of fun-filled sporting events.
Costa brought on 10 volunteer athletes from the varsity teams at Rocky Point, and modifies different sport activities for the athletes to partake in.
“We divide the turf in half and have the kids do activities, and halfway through the hour we do a water event and then switch,” he said. “We did a bean bag toss and volleyball, now we’ll do golf and bowling; we just go down there, organize the kids and we play.”
Although the program was created just two years ago, at the end of last summer, parents asked the Costas if they would be hosting it again, so they did. This season, 22 kids signed up.
“I get a lot of positive feedback from the parents and the kids continue to come back every week,” Costa said. “There’s no stress, no winning or losing, just out there playing and having fun. This is an opportunity for them to be on the turf and experience being out there. It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Those like Sarah have benefited from the program in more ways than one.
“It’s so amazing because she has difficulty in social situations,” Andersson said of her daughter. “Sometimes she shuts down and won’t participate, but Mr. Costa is an amazing person and got older kids involved. That collaboration — she feels safe with them. She won’t even participate in school in gym. [But this is] a positive atmosphere. Mr. Costa is a really special guy who creates such a special and fun environment for the kids.”
For others like Frank Anzaldi Jr., whose son Frankie Anzaldi III has been with the program since its inception, and is also a part of the TOPS soccer program, the Costa family has made a world of a difference in their lives.
“As a parent you just want to see your kids happy and to see them out there running around and having fun, it’s really great,” he said. “A lot of these kids face challenges every day and they struggle, but they’re all nonjudgmental and it’s so much fun. Frankie looks forward to it every week.”
Anzaldi Jr. said he enjoys seeing how the children with disabilities put the volunteers’ lives in perspective, while the older kids help those with disabilities communicate.
“It’s nice to see them all interact,” he said.
For Andersson, she’s just happy that the district heard the voices of parents like her at board of education meetings, and found a way to help.
“He heard us telling our administrators we would like something for our kids to do,” she said of Costa. “As they get older it’s harder to get involved. They’re making a huge difference for these kids. You don’t get to see potential without opportunity, and the Costa family are truly amazing people because they showed that potential by giving the kids opportunity.”
Even son Peter Costa gets involved. The 20-year-old starts off each week with a round of Simon Says, which is a favorite part of the hour’s activities for some of the athletes.
After Wednesday’s session, which runs from 5:30-6:30 p.m., there are still three more weeks left for locals to come down. Residents can sign up through the community education flyer on the Rocky Point website, and find out more about the program on Costa’s eBoard.
“It pulled her out of her funk,” Andersson said of how Athletes for All has affected her daughter. “They are so respectful of who each child is, and don’t try to change the kids. We’re just super grateful. I love watching Sarah play, have a great time, truly enjoy it and feel respected as a person. The Costas created such a special and fun environment, and are making a huge difference in these children’s lives.”