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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
October is the month for playoff baseball and perfect weather for playing outside.
So it was fitting that on Wednesday about 355 Henrico County students with disabilities went on a field trip to the Tuckahoe Park Baseball Complex off John Rolfe Parkway to step into the tee-batter's box and make their way around the bases.
Katherine Mutter, a Highland Springs Elementary School teacher, said the day was a way for the students to feel included and participate with kids from across the county.
The occasion for the festivities was Challenger Day, an annual event dating to 2012 that's put on by the I Have a Dream Foundation - Richmond, an education nonprofit organization. The day is an offshoot of the Challenger Division of Little League Baseball, a league for children with mental and physical disabilities.
Gail Henshaw of the I Have a Dream Foundation said Challenger Day was an idea born by her late husband Ken Henshaw, an avid coach of youth baseball and softball.
"He saw a way to combine his passion for education and baseball," Henshaw said. "It's to make them feel just like everyone else."
Events like Challenger Day come at a time when advocates are calling for more resources for students with disabilities. Virginia students with disabilities were suspended about three times more than students without disabilities in 2015-16, according to a report from Legal Aid Justice Center. Black male students with disabilities were found to be about 20 times more likely to be suspended than a white female student without a disability.
In addition to playing baseball, the children from 22 Henrico elementary schools could chill out under a tent with a number of comfort dogs brought by Caring Canines, take a spin through bubbles and hanging pool noodles meant to simulate a car wash, or indulge in various games and obstacle courses.
A boy inched his way toward the bustle of the comfort dogs when volunteer Sandy Kjerulf presented him with Chippers, a 6-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. After getting over some initial apprehension he pet Chippers gamely.
Standing nearby was Robin Redington, an Arthur R. Ashe Jr. Elementary School teacher who said it wasn't often that the students got a chance to participate and feel included.
"It's important for them to get out into the community," Redington said.
The day had more than 400 volunteers, 300 of which came from Capital One, which has donated $42,000 over six years to help put on Challenger Day each year. The funding is part of the company's $150 million Future Edge Initiative that it started in 2015.
"Volunteerism is a huge part of the way Capital One gives back," Sarah Midkiff of Capital One said.
There were 125 teachers and aids helping out. Mills E. Godwin High School photography students were on hand documenting the day with cameras. Other organizations that helped out were Henrico's Department of Recreation and Parks, the HCPS Department of Pupil Transportation, Tuckahoe Sports and the Henrico Education Foundation.
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