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Shelley Osterloh ReportingToo often people with disabilities face a world of perceived limitations, but there is a place near Park City where the focus is not on DISabilty, but rather Ability. The National Ability Center is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
The National Ability Center provides affordable outdoor sports and recreational experiences for people of all ages and abilities. We found a group of Park City fifth graders doing team building exercises and learning what it's like to have a disability. Nearby, five-year old Jack Stanley, who has autism, is learning to care for a horse.
Joy Stanley, Jack's Mother: "It's a wonderful opportunity for him."
His mother Joy says he has trouble with concentration and communication, but on a horse he seems to relax, focus on what he's doing, and even more surprising...
Joy Stanley, Jack's Mother: "He talks a lot more when he is one the horses, which is kind of cool."
One of the volunteers is a young man who was among the first at the Ability Center twenty years ago. Connor Kristiansen is 27-years old and works at a grocery store. He likes to help the kids learn new things as others have helped him.
Connor Kristiansen, Participant and Volunteer: "It's been fun. It's a great program, a program for every ability."
Pat Kristiansen, Connor's Mother: "He's got a lot of good self-esteem and I think he learned that though the experience to try things."
Trying new things and developing self-confidence are at the core of the National Ability Center philosophy.
Meeche White: "It's just kind of building on successful experiences that helps build that confidence. We've seen people go back to school, we've seen kids' behaviors change in school, grades get better. At the least somebody has fun, but typically it is much much more than that."
Meeche White is the founder. She says the programs also help change perceptions.
Meeche White, Founder and CEO National Ability Center: "Quite often parents or people with disabilities perceive limitations and often times then can get on a 12-hundred pound animal or get in a ski device and go down the hill, and all of a sudden what they thought they could do goes from here to way out here, so it opens the door to possibilities and opportunities."
In 1996 an anonymous donor provided 26 acres of land for the national ability center, just outside Park City. And from there it has grown. Last year the Center provided over 20-thousand lessons to 10-thousand people in 22 different sports and activities, all designed to help people learn to overcome challenges and limitations. Their motto is: "If I can do this I can do anything."
The National Ability Center enjoys tremendous community support. Because of donations, participants pay only about 15% of what it costs to provide activities, and there are also scholarships for those who can't pay at all.