UNCW College of Health and Human Services Receives Grant for Military-Affiliated Sports Recreation Program

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The recreation therapy program in the UNCW College of Health and Human Services has received a $75,000 grant from the Department of Veteran Affairs to launch “Project SOAR,” a sports recreation program for veterans and active military members with disabilities.

The recreation therapy program has been working with a local nonprofit organization called Accessible Coastal Carolina Events Sports Services Inc. (ACCESS of Wilmington). The nonprofit’s mission is to create partnerships and develop inclusive recreational programs for individuals with disabilities and their families, a mission shared by UNCW’s recreation therapy program. The project’s goal is to increase the health and quality of life for past and present members of the armed forces with disabilities. Dan Johnson, associate professor of recreation therapy, founded ACCESS of Wilmington in 2008 and serves as chairman of the Board of Directors.

Southeastern North Carolina is home to more than 100,000 veterans and near two military installations, Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg, which provide services to the armed forces community. However, “Project SOAR” will be the first organized effort in the region to craft a recreation program tailored to the active needs of military members with disabilities.

“We strongly believe in family involvement,” said Candy Ashton, program coordinator for recreation therapy and principal investigator on the grant. “Many times the family of people with disabilities don’t know what they can do. When they see them participating successfully in recreational activities, it changes the dynamics of those relationships. The people you play with are some of the most important people in your life, so we want to involve the family as much as possible.”

“The great thing about ‘Project SOAR’ is that our students will be volunteers,” Ashton said. “We have four veteran students in our recreation therapy program, so they understand it from all perspectives: military, veteran and volunteer. They can relate to the folks we’ll be working with and their families. That’s such an important value they add to the project.”

“Project SOAR” will offer services to New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties. Since the grant awarded to UNCW’s recreation therapy program only funds a year of operation, the partnership with ACCESS of Wilmington is vital and will foster the continuation of the program after the first year. Their first event will focus on archery to take place at ACCESS of Wilmington’s Miracle Field.

-- Caitlin Taylor ’18M