Pennsylvania MENTOR Staff Member Makes a Difference in His Community
Neal Gallagher, a Pennsylvania MENTOR Therapeutic Services Intake Coordinator, is dedicated to making a difference both in his work and in his community. He was involved with a local Little League team ten years ago when a friend asked him to help start a Challenger Baseball program so youth with special needs could play baseball. He was excited to help and jumped right in.
While Neal enjoyed working with the Challenger Baseball program, his real passion was basketball. So five years after the Challenger Baseball program was set up, he began the Challenger Basketball program. It is now the Challenger Sports of Monroe County Pa Baseball, Basketball & Soccer organization.
Recognizing a great opportunity for the kids he served at Pennsylvania MENTOR to participate more fully in their community, Neal realized that the youth he worked with could be involved in the Challenger League. Many of the youth he worked with at Pennsylvania MENTOR were unable to play in organized sports due to their behavioral problems, but they could successfully be involved in the community and also build their self-esteem through volunteerism.
Neal brought participating youth to games and practices to assist children with disabilities and to “give back” to the community. Other staff members also brought the youth they served to the ball fields to help plant donated flowers. “It’s all about community,” said Neal, “and about trying to get everybody involved.”
The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation recognized Neal’s work with the Challenger Sports with The MENTOR Network Community Champion award. The award recognizes staff for their dedication and commitment to helping others and supporting our communities.
Neal’s commitment to his community goes beyond Challenger Sports. He also helped build a playground. Neal talked about how it would be great to create a playground for children with special needs. Five years, ago a friend told him about a grant opportunity for seed money to put toward creating the playground. A group of volunteers, including Neal, joined together to apply for the grant, and they received $25,000 in seed money towards making the playground a reality.
The group’s motto was, “It just makes sense,” and their goal was to make sure that all five senses were stimulated while the children were on the playground. One ways they did this was by including a sound garden with bongos and drums the children can be on, poles that can be hit with mallets, and even bells that can be rung.
The amount of research involved in creating the playground was more than Neal had anticipated, even with the 20 years of background he had in social work. They needed input from the playground users, so the entire community became involved in the project to create a playground for children with special needs. After five years and donations and grants from the community, the Crossing Abilities Playground in Pocono Township’s Mountain View Park was opened. It is fully accessible to the blind, is wheel chair accessible, has padded ground, and contains an autism center. The County updated other services around the park where the playground is located, including revamping the bathrooms and other areas to make them more accessible as well.
“The purpose is to enable kids with disabilities to interact with kids without disabilities.” said Neal. “It’s about community and interaction. It’s about sibling groups and friends being able to play together on the same playground so they aren’t separated. It’s about inclusion.”