A veteran learns how to shoot a bow and arrow through PROJECT Soar.

UNCW and ACCESS Wilmington Awarded Veterans Affairs Adaptive Sports Grant

October 6, 2022 - In 2016, Project SOAR (Sports Outreach and Adaptive Recreation) was developed through a collaboration between UNC Wilmington, ACCESS of Wilmington and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans with the opportunity to enjoy adaptive sports not readily available in the area. The program also builds camaraderie between veterans, their peers and instructors, increases their fitness and excursions, promotes active living through building recreation skills, improves physical and mental health, and promotes overall community reintegration. The program serves veterans in southeastern North Carolina living with service-connected illness or injury. Project SOAR offers activities such as archery, golf, cycling, kayaking, SCUBA diving, surfing, air rifle, therapeutic horsemanship, sailing, paddleboarding, and yoga.

Project SOAR primarily operates through funding provided by a Veterans Affairs Adaptive Sports Grant (ASG), which is given to organizations for the purpose of providing opportunities for veterans to improve their independence, well-being, and quality of life through adaptive sports and therapeutic arts programs. This year, UNC Wilmington and its partners were awarded a $194,260 ASG grant, a significant increase from last year. Grant funds will be used to purchase machinery and equipment specifically engineered to help disabled participants in these kinds of events.

The School of Health and Applied Human Sciences’ Recreation Therapy program has been an integral part in the collaboration between the university and ACCESS of Wilmington. Associate Professor Brent Hawkins says of the program, “The mission is health. So to improve the health of veterans, engaged them in things they enjoy doing, and reconnect them with other military service members and people in the community through recreation is so important. This builds on the veterans’ strengths, helps them improve their health, and reintegrates them back into the community.”

For many veterans, the difficult transition from military service to civilian life can lead to isolationism. Hawkins explains, “A large percentage of veterans experience traumatic stress and depression symptoms because of an emotional or psychological injury. Things can get bad quickly. We encourage more veterans to come out of their homes so they can reconnect with their social health. We’re trying to give veterans an opportunity to re-establish who they are and what they can do instead of focusing on what they can’t do.”

Dr. Steve Elliott, director of the School of Health and Applied Human Sciences says, “Our school is committed to engaging with our community partners to provide service while infusing applied learning opportunities for our students into our degree programs. ACCESS of Wilmington has been one of our signature community partners for over a decade and we are thrilled to continue to expand our relationship with the funding we have received from the Department of Veterans Affairs for Project SOAR. Our Recreation Therapy faculty and students will be able to work with ACCESS staff to provide adapted sports, recreation, and recreation therapy for veterans living with service-connected illness or injury in and around Wilmington, N.C. This partnership really does make a difference in the lives of these veterans who participate in adapted activities such as surfing, sailing, SCUBA, yoga, and golf.”