Commentary: Thanks to Girls Leading Girls Summer Camp

By Beth Lederer

I was so honored when Girls Leading Girls told me that they wanted to feature
my daughter, Alirose, as the Camper of the Month. I was also so honored and grateful when Girls Leading Girls accepted Alirose into the summer camp.

Ever since I saw the segment on Girls Leading Girls on the news a few years back, I was hoping to find a way that Alirose could join a soccer team that was inclusive. It seemed like this would be the perfect place for Alirose to flourish.

Alirose is 12 years old and will be starting the 7th grade at AP Giannini School in San Francisco’s Sunset District. Alirose was born with Down Syndrome and I know that the camp was not set up for kids with disabilities – though I reached out to Brianna through the summer’s Initiative and DCYF, letting them know how much Alirose loves to play soccer and that she is pretty good at it. Brianna asked a few questions, and when I described Alirose’s personality and potential they were very eager to welcome her into the camp. I was very happy and appreciative because one of their core values of the camp is inclusion, making everyone feel welcome. I also felt very proud that Alirose was the first child with a disability to be accepted into the program and that she excelled in it.

Alirose has been playing soccer since she was 3 years old through E-soccer. She has also been very active through the adaptive department of Rec. and Park , KEEN and Challenger baseball. Alirose has been excelling in these adaptive programs and a few of the coaches of E-soccer complimented Alirose that she is good enough and has potential to play with her peers.

Even though Alirose was born with a disability, it has never stopped her from accomplishing anything. She has always exuded a lot of confidence and has never been treated like she has a disability. In her eyes, she see’s herself as being on the same level as her peers and doesn’t view herself as different. Having this confident attitude allowed her to come to camp on the first day, confident enough to fit in with the group of girls and was able to keep improving her soccer skills immensely during the three week session.

The staff really showed they cared. Megan was great – she was the first person I had initial contact with and we discussed many issues to ensure that Alirose would have a smooth transition into soccer camp. Lara her counselor was also great, always so welcoming and checking in all the time that Alirose was happy and having fun. Lara was a true leader. She really wanted Alirose to be included in all the soccer drills. Due to her leadership, all the girls in Alirose’s group also included Alirose in all the soccer activities. I’m not sure if any of the girls ever met another child with Down Syndrome, though when they were playing soccer they were all very mature and nobody in the group was ever mean to Alirose or singled her out. Instead when they were playing soccer, the girls showed compassion, patience and understanding. If Alirose did not understand something, or it took her a little longer to understand the drill, they never made a fuss. Their maturity was pretty impressive.

The afternoon portion of the camp was a little more challenging for Alirose. She is pretty independent and self motivated. She has always been very resourceful in her self play. Alirose loves to play by herself and didn’t always have the communication skills needed to join the other girls laughing and playing games in the afternoon.

Alirose has always been more comfortable with adults than other kids, as is often the same with other kids with disabilities. They are used to getting a lot more attention from adults through many different therapies, etc. So, socially in the afternoons it was a little more challenging, though Alirose did join in some arts and crafts activities and soccer games in the afternoon. We were also very grateful for a few campers who played soccer with Alirose individually (Jocelyn and Eleanor). Jocelyn was especially sweet and really made Alirose feel welcomed. Alirose also enjoyed when a few of the girls also had a imaginary tea party with her. I was also very happy that the camp was very open to feedback from me. This helped Alirose have a very successful three weeks and they also allowed me to join Alirose in the afternoon and play soccer with her. She really enjoys kicking the ball, one to one, and at that time I could see such improvement and how much stronger her kick had become.

Alirose learned so much in Girls Leading Girls that on the certificate that was passed out the last week of camp, it stated Alirose was the most playful and most improved player. I was so impressed how she followed along with the directions and learned so many new soccer drills. Alirose’s kick has become so much stronger and her endurance has improved so much.

I was also proud of Alirose that she exhibited the confidence that she did. This was the first time she was in a class or camp without an additional aide or extra help. She stood her ground and demonstrated to the other girls that she could play soccer with them.

As a parent of a child with a disability, I was so grateful to Girls Leading Girls and DCYF for giving her the chance to showcase her talent, to show that she can really play soccer, to follow instructions as well as she did so that she could practice and learn new skills, gain endurance and precision and hopefully one day to be invited to join a team. Alirose has always loved kicking the ball and playing soccer. For these reasons, having this opportunity to play soccer this summer has been truly amazing.

If a child with a disability shows promise in a sport or an activity, it is so important for that child to have the same opportunities as his/her peers to foster their greatest talent and to reach for their truest potential. I believe Alirose is also a great leader for those kids who have disabilities and their families. They look up to Alirose with so much respect. I also hope that Alirose taught the girls in her group something about inclusion, strength and perseverance.

Alirose thanks Lara for her kindness and compassion. She also thanks Tara, Millie and the other counselors who checked in with Alirose and played soccer with her. Thanks to Girls leading Girls and DCYF for this amazing opportunity. Alirose also thanks Joselyn and Eleanor, girls who were in Aliroses group who played soccer with her when she wanted to play soccer by herself. Alirose also thanks the girls who had the tea party with her.

Alirose learned so much this summer at Girls Leading Girls motivating her to keep improving by using her new skills and hopefully finding the right soccer team that sees her potential and who will welcome her with open arms.

Thank You! Girls Leading Girls for this most wonderful experience.

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