As Kate Mardigian walked off the baseball field with her two young sons 15 years ago, she passed a field where baseball players with disabilities were playing, but their parents were out on the field as well.
As a parent, she understood that it is an honor for a parent to be able to watch their child enjoy participating in activities such as sports.
Mardigian created a program called River City Buddy Ball to provide full-season athletics in an inclusive setting where participants with physical, developmental or intellectual differences can play alongside volunteers, or “buddies,” while their parents cheer from the stands. As programs continued to grow, River City Buddy Ball expanded in 2013 into what is now Jacob’s Chance.
Jacob’s Chance is an organization that works to enrich the lives of individuals ages 5-35 with developmental, intellectual and/or physical disabilities. Through a variety of programs, it strives to make sure everyone has the resources to experience all of the activities Richmond has to offer. From flag football to whitewater rafting, Jacob’s Chance has a program to satisfy almost anyone.
Mardigian remains the executive director of the organization she founded a decade and half ago and the roots of her initial idea are still visible today in River City Buddy Ball. It features programs for tennis, baseball, football, basketball, soccer and Taekwondo. The athletes are put in a non-competitive and supportive environment, where they can gain confidence, learn new skills and form lasting friendships. Each athlete is paired with a volunteer buddy who focuses on guidance, safety and ensuring the athlete has a good time.
The Hangout is a social group for young adults and meets monthly to encourage relationship building, independence and socialization between high school graduates up to age 35. From pool parties to group dinners, the social aspect of this group is thriving.
“Instead of sitting at home and not having anybody to hang out with, we provide some really cool opportunities for a group of people to get together,” Mardigian said.
Teen Scene at Jacob’s Chance provides inclusive monthly social events for teens ages 13-18. These events are planned and put on by the organization’s United High School Board of Directors, or the “Teen Board.” Because these events are put on by their peers, the monthly gatherings are fun for everyone. From bingo and karaoke to movie nights and bowling, these monthly meetings are a great way for teens to build relationships and step outside of their comfort zones. “There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes,” Mardigian said. In this case, it’s all up to the Teen Board.
Adventures with Jacob’s Chance
Adventures with Jacob’s Chance puts on inclusive and exciting adventures. The programs include surfing, fishing, hiking, whitewater rafting and more. The excursions give people of varying ages a chance to experience all the thrilling things Central Virginia has to offer in a safe and supportive environment. Personal development and positive relationships are promoted through the group experiences.
Jacob’s Chance is an organization that reaches so many lives in a positive way. It’s impact can be felt beyond just the programs and has ripple effects that enrich the community.
“It’s life changing what we do here, not just for the parents, not just for the participants, but for the volunteers as well,” Mardigian said.
On October 1, Jacob’s Chance will be holding its Chips 4 A Chance Casino Night Gala. The event will be held at the ACCA Ballroom in Richmond and has a Roaring 20s theme this year. All proceeds from the night go toward supporting Jacob’s Chance and similar organizations. Tickets are on sale until September 23.