Northampton-based nonprofit ‘opens up the world’ for people with disabilities

  • Ginny Graves, 72, of Pelham, skis on a trail in the Wendell State Forest using a Scandinavian kick sled with the assistance of All Out Adventures program leader Patti Dougherty and intern Mitchel Carson, 17. Graves says All Out Adventures’ Universal Access Program is huge for her. “There’s no other way I can get outside,” she says. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Ginny Graves, 72, of Pelham, skis down a trail in the Wendell State Forest using a Scandinavian kick sled with the assistance of All Out Adventures program leader Patti Dougherty. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Ginny Graves, 72, of Pelham, skis down a trail in the Wendell State Forest using a Scandinavian kick sled with the assistance of All Out Adventures program leader Patti Dougherty. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Ginny Graves, 72, of Pelham, skis down a trail in the Wendell State Forest using a Scandinavian kick sled with the assistance of All Out Adventures program leader Patti Dougherty. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Ginny Graves, 72, of Pelham, skis on a trail in the Wendell State Forest using a Scandinavian kick sled with the assistance of All Out Adventures program leader Patti Dougherty and intern Mitchel Carson, 17. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Ginny Graves, 72, of Pelham, skis on a trail in the Wendell State Forest using a Scandinavian kick sled with the assistance of All Out Adventures program leader Patti Dougherty and intern Mitchel Carson, 17. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • All Out Adventures program leaders Adrienne Phelps, bottom left, and Helen Kahn, middle, fit Grayson Gudell, 18, into an adaptive skating sled while his mother Paula Gudell looks on during a public skating session at Collins-Moylan Arena in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Linda Surprenant of Belchertown participates in an All Out Adventures program with her daughter, Lauren, 29, who has Leigh syndrome, during a public skating session at Collins-Moylan Arena in Greenfield. Surprenant says All Out Adventures’s Universal Access Program makes a huge difference in her daughter’s life. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • All Out Adventures program participants make their way around the rink during a public skating session at Collins-Moylan Arena in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • All Out Adventures program leader Adrienne Phelps, left, pushes Daniel Lang-Gunn, 33, along with his personal care assistants Dalton Hill and Daniel Ssozi during a public skating session at Collins-Moylan Arena in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Linda Surprenant participates in an All Out Adventures program with her daughter, Lauren, 29, during a public skating session at Collins-Moylan Arena in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Linda Surprenant participates in an All Out Adventures program with her daughter, Lauren, 29, during a public skating session at Collins-Moylan Arena in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Dan Little

Published: 2/22/2019 7:57:06 PM

A mile into the woods of the Wendell State Forest, the ground was covered in snow, and winding trails wrapped around iced-over streams and ponds. There was little sign of human activity.

But, with skis beneath her, Ginny Graves of Pelham darted down a small hill and past a frozen brook.

It’s a place for the adventurous, and Graves is certainly that. Normally, Graves has to use a wheelchair to get around, but with All Out Adventures, she is strapped to a small cart, itself above a pair of skis.

“The program, it’s huge,” said Graves, who is “72-years-young” and was paralyzed from the waist down in a skiing accident. “There’s no other way I can get outside.”

For the last six years, Graves has been active with All Out Adventures, a nonprofit that provides adaptive sports excursions for people with disabilities and their families and caregivers through its Universal Access Program. The organization also provides different programs for veterans and seniors.

Funded through donations and grants, the Northampton-based organization provides adapted equipment for physical activities year-round and across the state, including kayaking, cycling, hiking and — in the winter — snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating and snowmobiling. The mission, according to Executive Director Karen Foster, is to give people with disabilities, veterans and seniors an opportunity to socialize and exercise at little to no cost.

The organization was founded in 2001 to provide an outlet for people of all ages and skill levels to gain access to the outdoors and, if necessary, adaptive equipment.

Providing the often-expensive equipment needed for adaptive sports eliminates a barrier for people with disabilities who want to get outside, Foster said. An adaptive snow sled, for example, costs around $500 — or more, depending on quality.

In Wendell State Forest — and other state lands across Massachusetts — All Out Adventures collaborates with the Department of Conservation and Recreation for the Universal Access Program.

“This program opens up the world,” said Marcy Marchello, Universal Access Program coordinator. “Some people feel they can never go kayaking again, or skiing again. The family feels like they can never recreate again, but here they can.”

Marchello stood talking next to a snowmobile affixed with a sleigh for carrying passengers, and several smaller vehicles allowing paraplegics to go cross-country skiing while sitting down.

According to Marchello, a huge range of people come to the programs, from those that need lots of assistance to those that need virtually none.

“Sometimes we never see them again,” Marchello said. “But sometimes there are people that need to have this. It’s a social setting, and we have a wide circle of social behavior related to people’s disabilities that we accept. We’re all people, we’re no different. We want to have fun, we want to connect and have time in nature.”

According to Foster, the collaboration with DCR is important because it allows people to participate in programs on well-kept, state-owned land and with trained professionals from All Out Adventures and DCR close by.

The areas themselves, like Wendell State Forest, Foster and Marchello agreed, are another bonus to the Universal Access Program.

“It’s off the beaten path, but that’s part of its greatest attraction,” Marchello said. “It’s wilder.”

All Out Adventures also occasionally has indoor programs — like ice skating, provided through both the Universal Access Program and the Statewide Head Injury Program — that still require a professional close by for assistance.

In January, Daniel Lang-Gunn, 33, of Pelham was able to attend one of the programs at the Collins-Moylan Skating Arena in Greenfield. Lang-Gunn uses a wheelchair as a result of a heart arrhythmia and brain injury, but, with his personal care assistants Dalton Hill and Daniel Ssozi, he was able to glide across the ice in a chair adapted for skating.

“He’s nonverbal,” said Ssozi, “but you can really tell he enjoys it through his body language and the way he laughs.”

A program leader with All Out Adventures cruised around the rink with the group, enjoying the free skate with the rest of the public and pushing Lang-Gunn along.

Linda Surprenant of Belchertown brought her daughter, Lauren, 29, who has a debilitating disease called Leigh syndrome and is unable to move on her own. Pushing her daughter happily along in an adaptive skating sled, Surprenant said All Out Adventures makes a huge difference in her daughter’s life.

“They are incredible, innovative and creative people. Their mindset isn’t, ‘No, you can’t do it,’ but, ‘How can we help you do this?’” Surprenant said. “She can just settle right down, relax and enjoy it. That’s why we do this.”

Surprenant said her daughter has also been kayaking, biking and canoeing through the Universal Access Program.

All Out Adventures provides around 150 outdoor excursions each year, with varying numbers of participants — from only a few participants at some winter activities, to around 80 paddlers at the annual Kayak-a-thon on the Connecticut River. Many of the participants do not have disabilities, and getting families to be able to enjoy outdoor activities together is half of the point, Foster said.

“Just under half of our participants have disabilities. We have a lot of spouses, families, and this takes them out of that caregiver role,” Foster said.

Foster said she has seen many couples who frequently enjoyed an outdoor hobby together, until one of them has a stroke or an accident that leaves them unable to participate. A partnership and shared interest can be “reclaimed” through the program, which not only provides gear and a place to exercise, but an important emotional and social element to a demographic that often experiences isolation.

“I’ve got young kids, and I teach them snowboarding, ice skating,” Foster said, adding that her children are not disabled, but that “it means everything to me, to our family, to teach them.”

Foster has seen the difference that All Out Adventures and the Universal Access Program has made in people’s lives, including her own.

“I’m making the world an inclusive place, which is exactly what I’d want,” she said. “I can’t put myself in their shoes, but I can imagine what it would be like.”

March activities from All Out Adventures include:

■Universal Access Program (no fee) winter recreation at Wendell State Forest on March 2 and March 9 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and skating at the Buffone Rink in Worcester on March 14 from 10 to 11:50 a.m.

■Senior snowshoeing ($5 to $20 sliding scale) at the Daughters of the American Revolution State Forest in Goshen on March 6 and March 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

■Statewide Head Injury Program ($5 fee) ice skating at the Fitzpatrick Ice Skating Rink in Holyoke on March 5 from noon to 2:30 p.m., and hiking at Mount Tom in Holyoke on March 19 and March 26 from noon to 3 p.m.

For information about All Out Adventures’ programs, visit alloutadventures.org. Advance registration is required for most programs by calling 413-584-2052.

David McLellan joined the Greenfield Recorder in February 2018, covering the towns of Orange, New Salem and Wendell. He can be reached at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.




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