When my family sat down and decided to continue Philip’s legacy through a foundation, I knew deep in my heart that serving the special needs community would be my mission. Philip’s heart was enormous when it came to finding a way to make people smile, and his passion for kids who were facing a tough challenge was undeniable. My heart was calling me to help bring smiles to some kids faces through the foundation.
Last year I reached out to the Cobb County Special Needs department about partnering with them for a Special Needs prom. Who didn’t love going to the prom?! Cobb County was way ahead of me with their annual Valentine’s Day dance held at Kennesaw Mountain High School.
OK, next idea. How about a field day for the high schools? Cobb County had that covered. Middle school? Done. However, what Cobb County didn’t have was a field day for the elementary age special needs kids. With 65 elementary schools that feed into the 16 high schools in Cobb County, I knew this was where Lutzie 43 could help.
I was introduced to Ms. Heidi Evans and her team of amazing teachers who are a part of the Cobb County Adapted PE program. Adapted PE provides physical education classes specifically for students with physical or mental challenges such as autism, down syndrome, or a student who may be missing a limb.
Ms. Heidi and her team explained the difficulty to find the proper funding to get close to 200 Adapted PE elementary students to a central location for a field day. Bus transportation can be expensive, but the additional cost of special needs buses with wheelchair lifts made the event even further from reach. We knew as a foundation that our job was to get these kids to the field day, no matter the cost.
In a little over a year and a half, we were able to pull together three field days across the county with close to 200 students at each event. Last school year we hosted one for the South Cobb district elementary schools and this year we expanded to two field days – one for South Cobb schools and one for East Cobb schools. Osborne High School and Lassiter High School so generously supported each field day through set up, tear down, and providing wonderful student volunteers. I am blown away by the support of the community and our partner local corporations who donated to help provide these buses so kids and teachers could come enjoy a day of fun and fellowship.
It is hard to put into words the joy I saw on the kids' faces as they ran around and played. So many hugs, so many laughs, so much dancing!
I can still remember the smile of one 5-year-old little girl. She did not have her legs and was missing half of her arm, but she had a smile so wide that you could see all of her missing teeth! When I first met her she was in a motorized wheelchair. I thought to myself, “I wonder how much she will be able to do and experience at this field day.” She could watch the other kids running around, but would she still have fun? A few minutes later I turned back and she was out of her wheelchair laughing her head off in the bounce house. She used her abs to explode herself into the air. She participated in EVERY station, from bowling to the obstacle course and even jump rope. The whole time she was laughing, smiling, yelling and thanking me for all the fun she was having. I will never forget that little girl.
I know the purpose of serving others is not to make your own self feel good, but I can’t help but smile and find so much goodness in our field days. At each of our three field days, I have walked up to the top of the football stadium seats and simply watched. I listen, I soak it all in, and honestly, I tear up. I have come to realize that not only are these adapted PE students amazing, but so are their teachers. They radiate patience, kindness, service and a passion for the kids. I am so thankful for being a small part of these kids’ lives. While we set these field days up to impact these kids, they have impacted my life more than I could ever imagine.
Our field days are one of those moments where we bring to life the saying on the Lutzie 43 Foundation wristbands, and what I believe Philip’s life and legacy is all about - “I know God is working so I smile.”
Check out a video recap here: 2017 Lutzie 43 Foundation Adapted PE Elementary Field Day from Knight Eady on Vimeo.