The goal of IMPACT – Individualized Movement and Physical Activity for Children Today – is to improve the health and increase the physical activity level of children with unique needs.
The program serves more than 100 children with special needs ranging in age from 18-months to 21-years-old.
It began in 1982 and is currently co-directed by Drs. JK Yun, Megan MacDonald and Simon Driver and implemented by nearly 150 Oregon State students.
“The stars of the show really are the graduate and undergraduate students who run the program,” Simon says.
Graduate students oversee the program and are responsible for writing lesson plans each week that include individualized modifications for the activities of each child. Those lesson plans are given to undergraduate students who work one-on-one with participants to deliver the activities.
“This term I am partnered with Sophia, and she is amazing,” says volunteer Lacey Johnson. “I see her face light up and it just gives me goosebumps because I know that this is her time to have fun and learn new things and be around kids, and that’s what I love about it.”
Activities in IMPACT are broken into two sessions. Participants spend 45 minutes in the gym working on object control and motor skills such as running, kicking and throwing, and use the other 45 minutes to work on swimming skills in the pool.
“This is really unique for children in wheelchairs who are often confined to their chair,” Simon says. “They are able to get out, move through a specific range of motions and work on swimming skills, much of which translates into what they can do with their parents on the weekends.”
One of the unique benefits of IMPACT is that coordinators are able to make special modifications for each child based on their needs. For example, different sized balls or bats are used with children who have motor control or strength issues so that every child can be successful and gain confidence in their abilities.
“Brian used to be very quiet and very shy, wouldn’t do any sports, wouldn’t do anything, he would just basically stand against the wall at recess and wouldn’t interact with any kids,” says parent Kelli Steele. “When we joined IMPACT, he started learning sports, he gained confidence, he learned how to make friends, he got involved, he went back to school and started playing at recess and playing basketball. He’s involved in everything, and now you can’t slow him down. He goes non-stop. So, we’re so thankful to IMPACT and the self-confidence and the skills and the sports and everything they’ve given our son.”
Simon says IMPACT touches the lives of everyone involved in the program.
Children with disabilities benefit by developing motor control and physical activity skills; undergraduates benefit by working with individuals with unique needs; graduates benefit by gaining practical experience running community-based programs that are often replicated and taken to their future jobs; parents benefit by having their children learn physical activity skills they can later work on together as a family; and faculty members benefit by conducting research to understand ways to improve the physical activity skills of individuals with disabilities.
“Personally one of the greatest things that I enjoy about IMPACT is the number of children we’re able to serve, the great smiles you see on their faces, and the fact that they keep coming back and the volunteers keep coming back,” he says.
“Watching the growth from the participants and seeing them and the volunteers come back each year, seeing the excitement when the participants come and relationships and skills grow is a great thing to see throughout the years,” says IMPACT coordinator Amanda Tepfer.
“It’s so worth it,” Lacey says. “I feel so much gratification from it, and it makes me feel good that I’m doing this because I love it and I get to see how much they grow and how much I got to help them.”
“In IMPACT, the OSU students and everyone loves Brian for who he is in that moment, and when he’s here, he’s OK,” Kelli says. “He’s at peace here and he’s happy here, and that means the world to us.”
Another goal of IMPACT is to make sure children with disabilities are included in community-based physical activity settings.
“Our goal is to increase links with local soccer programs, local kids clubs, local community organizations so that kids with disabilities are involved with programming,” Simon says. “One of the things we’ve done is set up a relationship with the Boys and Girls Club so children with disabilities are integrated through that organization.”
Another program offered is IMPACT for Life – a community-based physical activity program geared toward adults 21 years and older who have transitioned through IMPACT.
“We have a long history of having a great impact on the lives of children with disabilities and preparing future professionals to work with individuals once they’ve graduated from OSU,” Simon says. “Our goal is to continue having a great impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities and improving their lifelong health and well-being.”