DC nonprofit helps kids with disabilities soar this holiday season

With Giving Tuesday just a few days away, a longtime D.C. nonprofit that supports youth with disabilities wants to be sure potential donors know where to find them.

Originally founded in 2009 as Dreams for Kids DC, the nonprofit has just wrapped up its rebranding as So Kids SOAR.

A partnership with the Monumental Sports and Entertainment Foundation allows So Kids SOAR to offers free sports clinics to disabled youth, featuring local pro athletes, including the Washington Capitals. (Courtesy So Kids SOAR)

“We wanted to create a new name that really captured the essence of how our programming has evolved over the last six, seven years in this area,” executive director Glenda Smith said. “What we’ve really done is transformed our programming to help youth with disabilities through not just the childhood years, but also through their transition to adulthood.”

The core mission of So Kids SOAR is to provide free, adaptive athletic, recreational and skill-building activities that empower youth with physical and developmental disabilities to Strive, Own, Achieve, and Realize their potential, Smith said.

When the nonprofit launched in the District, their flagship programming provided adaptive clinics for youth with disabilities ages 4 to 24, held once or twice a month. As So Kids SOAR, they will continue to offer these clinics.

“They range from … ice hockey with the Washington Capitals, to a prom, to more recently a STEM clinic,” Smith said. “So Kids SOAR also includes typically developing siblings, so the whole family can experience the program and no one is left out.”

The rebranding offers So Kids SOAR an opportunity to spotlight their program for young adults, Path to Success, which is a vocational building program where ten young adults with disabilities are paired up with mentors.

“Through a 10-week curriculum, they learn all about basic communication skills, digital communication skills, building a resume, networking, mock interviewing and really just building confidence to become independent and succeed in their lives,” Smith said.

The programs are always free to families, but So Kids SOAR relies on donations — of money and time — to carry out their mission.

Smith said the clinics cost an average of $200 per participant, although some larger clinics, such as their popular water skiing and tubing clinic, require more help.

“We work 100% off donations,” Smith said. “No donation is too small. Ten dollars will go a long way in our organization.”

The nonprofit will host an average of 12 to 14 clinics per year. Since the pandemic, Smith said, they also started posting one virtual clinic per month, as well as Path to Success and a holiday program — “all free, run by myself and an amazing board of directors, and volunteers who want to give their time.”

There are about 2,400 volunteers in the So Kids SOAR database, allowing them to offer a one-to-one ratio at all clinics and programs, but Smith said they can always use more. The kids build a sense of camaraderie with their volunteers, and “it’s really just lovely for them to make a connection with someone outside of their family unit.”

Through a partnership with the Monumental Sports and Entertainment Foundation, So Kids SOAR is able to offer a number of activities featuring local professional athletes with the Washington Capitals and the Washington Mystics, who also volunteer their time.

Smith said it’s nice for the kids and their parents to see local leaders and athletes giving back their time and wanting to invest in their community as well.

The So Kids SOAR holiday program will give youth an opportunity to also volunteer during the season of giving.

“Our youth with disabilities will be wrapping presents for homeless children; they will be writing cards for veterans; they will be stuffing cotton balls for a local animal shelter,” Smith said. “So it’s all about teaching our youth that they can still give back to the community, even if they have a disability.”

Upcoming events, including the holiday program, are on the So Kids SOAR website, and parents or guardians can simply register for the clinics they’d like to attend; however, the vocational building program is a separate application process every spring.

As their rebranding effort is wrapping up, Smith said she is grateful to everyone who has supported So Kids SOAR in the past, because it helped them survive the pandemic. Now, she said, they are thriving and hoping to bring the So Kids SOAR mission to other cities in the next five years.

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