Rotary Grant Funds Fitness for People with Disabilities

Bocce for Balance Special Olympics Brooke Adams.jpg

Independence Association clients, employees and friends will enjoy playing bocce at the organization’s new Brunswick location, thanks to a generous $5,000 grant from Rotary District 7780.

The “Bocce for Balance” project is designed to promote bocce play among Independence Association’s clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Bocce is an outdoor bowling game with roots in antiquity. It supports the development of hand-eye coordination, physical balance, and large motor skills, while encouraging social interaction. A recent New York Times op-ed suggested that bocce may be the secret to long life. Given the importance of social connections to longevity – and the remarkable increase in lifespans over recent decades for people with IDD – Independence Association is banking on bocce and other group fitness activities to help clients remain healthy over their increasingly long lives.

With the Rotary grant, local Rotary Club members will construct bocce courts and associated seating at IA’s Parkway Building, 3 Industrial Parkway, Brunswick, to the specifications used in Special Olympics bocce competition. This means that Special Olympics bocce competitors from Independence Association and its partners will be able to practice on the same fast artificial turf surfaces they compete on. Until now, the nearest public court built to this specification is in South Portland, so local players have been practicing on traditional sand courts in Bath, which play much slower.

Independence Association bocce Coach Connie French-Smith looks forward to expanding the bocce program when practice courts are more conveniently located at IA’s Parkway Building. Practicing in Bath requires a 40-minute round trip, eating into practice time and discouraging some potential participants, she notes.

Independence Association serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – a population group whose average lifespan has increased by more than three decades over the last 50 years. That makes health and wellness newly important for this group as they are growing older. Independence Association serves many clients in their 60s, 70s and 80s, some of whom have been clients since the agency was founded in 1966.

“Health and wellness are more important that ever for the people we serve,” says Independence Association Executive Director Ray Nagel. “The Rotary Club’s generous support of ‘Bocce for Balance’ makes it possible for us to expand our commitment to quality of life among people with disabilities in the Mid Coast.”