On April 10, the College of Health and Human Services will host the 2015 Community Heroes Awards to recognize the unsung heroes in our community whose actions, thoughts and words have had a transformative power in our region. Our heroes, who represent each of the seven departments and four centers within our college, put others before themselves to genuinely make a difference for the residents of our region. All month long, we will be highlighting our 11 honorees in our Community Heroes Series.

_R2G9087Name: Jennifer Crocker, M.D.

Occupation: Medical Director of Rehabilitation Center, Valley’s Children’s Hospital

Nominated by: The Department of Recreation Administration

The time clock ticks down in a small gym that is packed with families, big and small. Down on the basketball court, children and teens in wheelchairs race each other to get to the basketball before the final buzzer fills the air. One of them grabs the ball, maneuvers his wheelchair around and aims for the basket. He shoots and misses, but that is okay. People in the room cheer him on regardless. After all, it’s not about the baskets made, but the progress and sense of achievement felt by these kids.

They are all participants in Valley Children’s Hospital’s Adaptive Sports Program, which was founded in 2008 by Dr. Jennifer Crocker. Under her direction, the Adaptive Sports Program offers recreational and athletic experiences for kids with physical and health impairments, ranging from cerebral palsy to spinal cord injuries.

A variety of fun and challenging adaptive recreational activities are offered, such as horseback riding, basketball, hockey, downhill skiing, water skiing, and rock climbing just to name a few. The program, which is the only one of its kind in the Central Valley, is free to all children with disabilities.

The program strives to have individuals interact with one another in a competitive, but always friendly, nature. The overall goal is to instill team-building skills, while most importantly promoting physical and mental therapy along the way. For some kids, it gives them the ability to work muscles that have weakened after long hospital stays. For others, it allows them a sense of normalcy to be active in sports they were once a part of before being hospitalized.

Crocker, medical director of Valley’s Children’s Rehabilitation Center, hopes to dispel the notion that individuals with health issues are not as able-bodied to compete with others. The positive changes and success stories that have arisen out of this program speak volumes about its impact on individuals.

Crocker says kids who were once suicidal and severely depressed as a result of their illness or disability are now thriving. Families who weren’t sure how to adapt to their new family dynamic are now interacting with each other with ease and understanding. What originally started out as a program with just eight participants has grown exponentially to over 300 kids and families who have gone through the program. The experience for them is life changing, says Crocker.

“The Adaptive Sports Program allows those with similar disabilities to join together,” says Crocker. “It is a fantastic way for these kids to get to know each other and at the same time, increase their social interaction, which is paramount to their physical, emotional health, and their psychological well-being. It really just instills a ton of confidence in kids who might not have the opportunity to shine. Parents of other children with special needs are also given the great opportunity to meet with other parents and together, foster support and friendship.”

Children have always held a soft spot in Crocker’s heart, who says witnessing the tough nature of the kids she works with serves as an inspiration to her and is among the most rewarding aspects of her job. She has been with Valley Children’s since 2008 and has taken special interest in working with children who have spinal cord injuries.

Prior to working at Valley Children’s, Dr. Crocker served as assistant professor of pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation at Indiana University School of Medicine, Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Her time in Indianapolis is also where she first discovered an adult adaptive program. That served as her inspiration to form a similar one for children in the Central Valley.

Crocker’s steadfast determination and desire to get this program started in the Valley has allowed those with limitations to reach new heights. It is clear to see that she is an individual who gives selflessly of her time and resources to the program that is changing lives – one individual at a time.

Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/vchadaptivesports
Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/vchadaptivesports

The 2015 Community Heroes Awards will be held on April 10, 2015 at Fresno State. For more information on the event, contact Beth Wilkinson at 559.278.3603 or bwilkinson@csufresno.edu or click here.