Students at Manhattan College are no strangers to volunteer work and the annual Manhattan College Games are no exception.
The Games invite children and adults with mental and physical disabilities from around the area to participate in athletic events. Sponsored by the department of kinesiology and with the Alpha Eta Chapter of the Phi Epsilon Kappa honors society, the Games have been held at the school since their founding in 1979.
This year, the event will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 9am to 12:30pm in Draddy Gymnasium where Jeff Cherubini, chair of the kinesiology department and Tedd Keating, advisor for the National Honor Fraternity, expect about 120 participants along with hundreds of student volunteers.
Students who volunteer are typically kinesiology majors or are in the school of science, but any student can join in the event. However, students who are in the adapted physical education classes and adapted exercising sport class are able to have a great hands-on experience with volunteering and eventually planning and leading in the future.
“It’s a lot of fun for both the participants and our students. It’s a great learning experience for them. I think ‘joy’ is a word I would use to describe the day because that is what both groups are feeling,” said Cherubini.
The participants range from children to adults, with a wide range of disabilities, but both Keating and Cherubini agree that the most important part is that they are together and doing activities they had not thought they would be good at. By bowling, jumping on a trampoline or dancing (to name a few activities) there is hope that they continue this even after the Games as a way to get some exercise and have fun with others.
“You may think of [the Games] as a small thing, but I think it’s a small thing that has a large impact. Some of these people may say ‘oh, I can do this’ and hopefully they’ll continue doing these things a little bit more as a result of this,” Keating said.
Since the first Manhattan College Games in 1979 were started by previous faculty members Dr. J. Carl Bennett and Bill Byron, the groups who attend have grown in number because it is an annual event that these groups from around NYC and Yonkers look forward to coming to. A lot of these places don’t get to do activities like the Games so it’s a special occasion for them and the students and faculty who help work it as well.
Cherubini and Keating both have memories that stand out for them like a hug from a participant or the look of utter joy on someone’s face who is particpating. Something as small as that makes the three-hour event—complete with a parade, entertainment and awards ceremony—so special to the community and school.
“There was one young woman the entire [impromptu dance session] who had a smile on her face and she was just unbelievably happy just being able to dance. I think she danced the entire time. That expression on someone’s face just makes it all worth it,” said Cherubini.
The day is something that both participants and volunteers will always remember because of the activities, the music and the fun students will share with those who attend the Games. It’s probably why the Games have been so successful year after year, with the number of attendees growing as the years go on.
“You just have to show up and see the faces of the people as they leave. They really enjoy it and for many of them it’s probably a highlight of their year… Even looking at the effect on the students who volunteer, it’s very similar,” said Keating.