No More Sidelines/Folkert Hub will 'build belonging'

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– PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE

By Cynthia Price

No More Sidelines was built on the idea that children with special needs deserve a sense of belonging just like everyone else.

So as they launch the public portion of a capital campaign called “Building Belonging” with the goal of making needed upgrades and improvements on the Folkert Community Hub, their home space
since 2013, founder Cyndi Blair emphasizes that the building will actually be open to all.

“We’re making it better so it will ultimately be a complete community hub, where there really is something that anybody would enjoy. It’s not just for special needs people, but we hope to  integrate them
along with the rest of the community,” says Blair.

This is in keeping with the No More Sidelines (NMS) mission to “invite children with special needs and their families to focus on fun, friends, socialization, and support.”

Blair started No More Sidelines in 2005, concerned about what she was seeing as limited options for her daughter Alivia to make friends. Alivia has cerebral palsy, autism, and cognitive delays, so Blair sought a welcoming set of activities for girls and boys like her. No More Sidelines first started operating out of homes, small venues and “garages,” but took over the former General Dynamics building
assisted by a gift from the Folkert family­ – as well as many others, including Larry Hines of the Hines Corporation.

One of the many ways NMS has built a community of support and been inclusive of youth with special needs is in offering sports activities. The building has a very large gymnasium in back.

Though Cyndi Blair had help from other parents at the start, she has very simply been a bulldog in keeping the organization going. She has received a Champion of Children award and the Distinguished Service Award from the Muskegon Sports Hall of Fame. And her daughter Alivia has thrived, at least in part because some of the work NMS has done is vocational in nature.

Blair says she hopes to expand vocational activities as the building begins rebuilding in early 2019. There will be expanded opportunities for working as a cook for events (the venue charges for the space and catering) and in the new Snack Shack, doing maintenance and laundry, and even restoring trophies as a small side enterprise.

Other brick-and-mortar additions will be an indoor soccer field, basketball and volleyball courts, places for programming, and even a walking track, aimed at older adults.

“I really feel like our senior citizens just do not have a real handicap accessible and easy-to-get-to place to walk,” Blair says.

On Dec. 4, NMS announced the funding campaign, which is budgeted at $1.4 million, but were also able to announced that 32 community donors, businesses and foundations had already given over $1,075,000 of that.

The campaign chairs are David Ellis, Senior Vice-President of West Shore Bank; Mark White, President of Shape Corporation; Mike Olthoff, CEO of Nichols Paper and Supply Co., and the aforementioned Larry Hines.

“As we work to provide the very best in programming for children and youth with special needs, I am pleased to be part of an effort that truly gives area families a strong support network and provides children with a place where they feel like they belong,” stated Hines.   

To make a donation, visit http://www.nomoresidelines.org and click on “I Can Donate,” or call 231-332-3849.