Mill Valley Recreation and Project Awareness and Special Sports (PAASS) continue to expand their award-winning collaboration on programs for children with special needs, adding Soulskin dance and kid’s cooking to a roster of programs that includes yoga, clay, ceramics and pottery, martial arts, strength and conditioning and swimming, among others.

The expansion is a reflection of the growing demand for programs for children with adaptive needs, according to Mill Valley resident Janet Miller, who laid the foundation for the program in 2009 by founding the Challenger League with her son Tyler Barbee to give kids with special needs like Tyler’s brother Connor the same chance as other kids to participate in organized baseball. They did so by pairing them with “buddies” – primarily high school and middle school athletes – to assist them.

“This absolutely is a community effort,” Miller says. “With the support of the City, our participants and families are being included and afforded opportunities that just have not been available in Marin. Our volunteers are also gaining so much and everyone is standing side by side – grateful to be helping one another.”

Miller and Barbee expanded upon the Challenger League to launch PAASS, and connected in 2013 with then-new Mill Valley Recreation Director Jenny Rogers when Miller spoke at a City Council meeting about the importance of employment opportunities for young people with disabilities.

For Rogers, who knew that the Community Center had been struggling to recruit good employees, a light bulb went off. She ended up hiring Connor Barbee, who has autism, through its “Work Training Experience” program run by local nonprofit Integrated Community Services (ICS). Rogers and PAASS also combined forces to create the City’s first Adaptive Swim Lesson Program in February 2015.

Both the work training and adaptive swim lesson programs were so successful, and incited enough additional demand, that MV Recreation and PAASS expanded the partnership in 2016 by offering a unique summer camp experience, Camp PAASS Without Boundaries. Unlike past efforts to adapt camps to include those with special needs, the camp was tailored to the specific needs of a wide cross-section of those with special needs. 

“They were looking for that traditional summer camp experience for their kids in a camp all their own,” Rogers says. “This format helped to foster community, camaraderie, and inspiration among the kids.”

​The collaboration’s adaptive needs program was honored with the Helen Putnam Award for Excellence at the 2017 League of California Cities Conference in Sacramento.

With ever-growing community support and a statewide award to show for its efforts, City staff have been asked to create training events specifically for recreation agencies throughout California. The Community Center has already hosted the Adaptive Needs Training Seminar (ANTS), which provided Aquatics staff with training on how best to offer Adaptive Needs Swim Lessons and inclusive Aquatics programming. City staffers have also presented at several professional conferences and workshops on the City’s Adaptive Needs Program.

In collaboration with its nonprofit partners, Mill Valley Recreation has provided hundreds of hours of Adaptive Needs Swim Lessons across more than 600 classes over the past three-plus years.

“It’s always our goal to help prepare participants to be more independent later in life, and each of these programs is going a long way to helping to make that happen,” Tyler Barbee says. “Our partnership with Mill Valley Recreation has been incredibly helpful.”

The 411: Mill Valley Recreation and Project Awareness and Special Sports (PAASS) continue to expand their award-winning collaboration on programs for children with special needs. MORE INFO & PROGRAM SCHEDULE.

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