MILL VALLEY (KPIX 5) — Thanks to a Mill Valley woman, thousands of people with physical and developmental disabilities no longer sit on the sidelines. Instead, they’re in the game.
Players score runs but they don’t keep track of runs, no one hits, and hitters can get help.
Dozens of participants with physical and developmental disabilities can play baseball in the Mill Valley Challenger League, which Janet Miller founded in 2008.
Miller’s son, Connor, has been diagnosed with qualities of autism. Baseball has given him and others a place to grow and belong.
“We had players who, when they arrived, did not speak. They were uncomfortable with the language. They found a voice,” Miller said.
The program was a success.
“And then the parents kept asking more: ‘Janet, what about basketball? What about tennis? ”, explained Miller.
So she added more sports and even a summer camp with a nonprofit she co-founded with her other son, Tyler, about 12 years ago.
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The organization is called Project Awareness and Special Sports, or PAASS. This year, up to 150 people between the ages of 5 and 22 will participate for free.
Janeen Swan’s 12-year-old son has been playing sports with PAASS for four years. She says the experience was a game-changer.
“It’s the best thing we’ve come across and it’s changed our lives,” Swan said. “It allows him to be a participant and to be like everyone else. And it provided him with friends, events every weekend that work for him, so that was really amazing.
It has also created a community for gamer families and people helping with PAASS. Volunteers like Trevor Islam say the experience opened his eyes and his heart.
“It made me a lot more compassionate and a lot more flexible,” Islam said.
Fellow volunteer Sydney Boyd says Miller has created an inclusive environment where everyone is a winner.
“She is definitely one of my role models. I want to do something similar in my life, so to see someone who can do it all is really inspiring. Boyd said.
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Miller also created It Takes a Village, a partnership with the Mill Valley School District to build support for students with special needs.
In addition, she was able to hire people living with disabilities in her management position at a workers’ compensation insurance company.
She is also working on a new project: starting a job training program with a coffee cart company. Miller tells KPIX that there is still a lot of work to do.
“It’s about getting people to recognize the incredible gifts and strengths that people with disabilities have to offer, and I definitely want to change that dialogue,” Miller said.
So, for creating free athletic opportunities for people with developmental and physical challenges, this week’s Bay Area Jefferson Award goes to Janet Miller.