'No child left behind" takes on a different meaning in the world of Patricia D'Accolti.
"My heart bleeds when I know that there is a kid who has been left out," said the founder and executive director of Children's Sport Connection, a Garden City-based nonprofit organization that works to ensure that lack of money doesn't keep children from participating in organized sports.
It's a scenario that hits close to home. Children's Sport Connection -- which D'Accolti, of Seaford, started in 2005 to provide needy children with new and gently used equipment and money for sports fees, registrations and lessons -- grew out of a crisis in her own family. In the mid-2000s, she was going through a tumultuous divorce that left her sons, Anthony, then 7, and Dean, then 5, heartbroken and dejected.
"The last thing I wanted for [my boys] was for them to feel any sadness at all," D'Accolti said of her children, who were avid hockey players. "When we would go to the rink, all of a sudden everything would change. [My sons'] teammates gave them high-fives, other dads would tie their skates, and the moms would comfort me. The team really pulled together and supported us."
One of Children's Sport Connection's earliest volunteers had a similar experience that she said inspired her to help D'Accolti once she started the nonprofit.
Lisa Moskowitz, 44, of Plainview, said that when her son, Matthew, had a stroke at the age of 13, his hockey team circled around the family to help Matthew, who is now 19 and a college student, with his recovery.
Moskowitz understands the value of sports in a child's life.
"The groups that we give equipment to -- the individual athletes -- a lot of them have nothing," she said. "You give [the kids] a used pair of hockey skates, and then they can play hockey. They are so grateful . . . that's what makes it all worthwhile."
But before D'Accolti could help others she had to overcome her own challenges.
As a single parent, she couldn't afford skates and team fees. To enable her sons to continue playing hockey, she took a train into Manhattan and sold her jewelry. Over time, D'Accolti came to realize that her children were not the only ones struggling to stay involved in a beloved team sport. Children's Sport Connection was her way of helping those children and giving back to her sons' hockey team.
Equipping young athletes
With the help of local businesses, county officials, Police Athletic Leagues, parent-teacher associations and other partner groups, Children's Sport Connection volunteers -- many of whom are teenagers and student athletes -- collect gently used hockey and in-line skates, helmets, basketballs, baseball gloves, shin guards, lacrosse sticks, soccer shoes and other gear and distribute it to children who cannot afford to buy sports equipment. The group also hosts fundraisers whose proceeds go toward paying team dues and fees for needy athletes, and it solicits tickets to local sports events for foster children and those in shelters.
D'Accolti estimates that during the past eight years, Children's Sport Connection has helped more than 10,000 children. Although its focus has been primarily Long Island, it has also sent sports equipment to the Dominican Republic and Africa.
Children's Sport Connection assists all types of children and organizations, but it specifically targets youth whose families are in crisis, whether it's health-related or of a financial or personal nature. Oftentimes, team sports gives them a safe haven from difficult family situations.
"When kids are on the ice playing hockey or out on the ballfield playing baseball, they do not have time to think about their problems, frustrations and worries," D'Accolti said. "They are concentrated on the here and now."
Board member Robert Rodriguez, 48, a retired senior investigator with the New York State Police, agrees.
"Kids who are involved in team sports stay out of trouble," he said. "If we can give kids sports equipment and get them into a team or in a league and off the streets, they have a better chance of making it."
When it came time to select a name for the organization, D'Accolti turned to her sons for help. They suggested Children's Sport Connection because to them their mom's endeavor was and continues to be about children who love sports connecting with other children who love sports.
In addition to maintaining that link, the group has involved young athletes in the operational side of the nonprofit's mission. Through its Junior Board initiative, five or six high school seniors meet regularly throughout the year and gain business experience by running day-to-day operations. As part of its Giving to Learn program, Children's Sport Connection trains student athletic teams how to make decisions as a group, how to communicate effectively and how to serve those who are less fortunate.
The organization's youth volunteers often bring their hearts, enthusiasm and athletic skills to Children's Sport Connection events. Two years ago, the nonprofit teamed up with the Hempstead Village Police Department's Police Athletic League to organize a hockey clinic. Teenage volunteers from the nonprofit who played with the Ice Cats, a Syosset-based travel hockey team, offered to staff the clinic.
Det. Jackie Jones, 44, the league's director and a resident of Hempstead, said 47 children participated. Children's Sport Connection made sure that each one had a hockey stick, jersey and a pair of ice skates. While the league held onto the jerseys so that it could use them again, the children took home the sticks and skates.
"Most of our children cannot afford to buy [sports equipment]; they have to borrow," Jones said. So when they received the sticks and skates from the nonprofit, "they were extremely excited," she said.
The teen volunteers, who included D'Accolti's son, Anthony, who was 13 at the time, then met with the clinic participants one afternoon a week for three weeks to teach them the fundamentals of hockey. At the conclusion of the clinic, the group's volunteers invited their "pupils" to a hockey game and party. The program was so successful that the group and the league plan to replicate it again this year.
Sports, after the storm
More recently, Children's Sport Connection partnered with, among others, the Nassau County Police Department and the Police Athletic Leagues of New Hyde Park, Roosevelt, Massapequa, Merrick and Bethpage to collect used and new equipment for children in the Long Beach area.
"Many families in this area were devastated by Hurricane Sandy," said Mark Moses, 44, pastor at New Life Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and a Long Beach resident. "They lost everything -- their homes, their personal belongings and the opportunity for their children to participate in everyday childhood activities."
Children's Sport Connection has visited the community twice since the storm to help children maintain their link to sports. In late August, at the community's Martin Luther King Center, and in mid-October at Pastor Moses' church, the nonprofit distributed gently used sports equipment to more than 425 children.
"The children who received the footballs, the baseballs, the bats, the mitts, the gloves -- they were elated," Moses recalled.
A few weeks ago, Children's Sport Connection joined Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano to launch a one-month sports equipment drive to benefit a fellow nonprofit, Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities Inc. Given the Bethpage organization's other needs, raising funds for sporting equipment for its learning center in Long Beach and its residential centers around Long Island has not been one of the group's priorities, said Juliette McKenna, director of development and community relations.
Yet, "sports are particularly important to adults and children whose disabilities make social interaction difficult," she noted. "Sports and team activities bring them together in ways that they cannot [achieve] by themselves."
As for Children's Sport Connection, D'Accolti has big plans for the nonprofit, which has begun to expand in a more formal and systematic way beyond Long Island. With the help of Marc Field, an East Rockaway resident who is chairman of the nonprofit's board and owner of H&M Leasing Corp., the organization has placed 30 sports equipment collection bins throughout the Philadelphia area and is starting to make connections with community-based organizations that might need sports equipment. There are plans to do likewise in New Jersey.
"There are always children in need," said D'Accolti.
Volunteers support Children's Sport Connection
Leslie Gross owes her "Most Physically Fit Senior Girl" title from high school to her love of athletics.
As a young girl, Gross, of Manhasset, participated in every sport available to her: badminton, basketball, field hockey, track, swimming, gymnastics and cheerleading.
Roger Kahn, 58, of New Rochelle, is a world-class swimmer who has been involved in sports his entire life. He is one of the top 10 swimmers in the world in the 55-59 age group.
Gross' and Kahn's love of sports has benefited the Children's Sport Connection, a Garden City-based group that helps children maintain their link to sports by providing them with the equipment and funds they need to play.
Founder and executive director Patricia D'Accolti said the organization's existence would not have been possible without the help of many key volunteers, but particularly Gross and Kahn.
Gross, 62, strongly encouraged D'Accolti -- whom she met at a luncheon for a domestic violence organization -- to start the nonprofit.
"Being on a sports team can be such a positive experience . . . especially for kids that are going through a hard time," Gross said. "The things that you learn from working with a coach and being on a team . . . those skills build your character. You learn how to work together with others, to work towards a goal, to try hard, . . . to lose gracefully. You learn to not quit."
Once the organization was up and running in 2005, Gross sat on its board until 2007, when she was elected clerk of the Town of North Hempstead. She continues to advise D'Accolti, recruit volunteers and new partners and associations, and also coordinates fundraising events and sports equipment drives.
Kahn, president of Champion Office Suites in Garden City, joined Children's Sport Connection's board about two years ago. He offers the group free office space, telephone and reception services, stores sports equipment until it is ready to be distributed and also helps give it away.
"I like helping children stay involved in sports when they might otherwise not be able to," he said.
Sign me up
Children's Sport Connection provides volunteer opportunities for teenagers and adults who want to help children who love sports. It is looking for volunteers to organize sports equipment drives, sort and organize sporting gear, make phone calls and do other administrative tasks, and help with fundraising, particularly its Dec. 11 holiday party at Carlyle on the Green in Farmingdale.
Contact: To volunteer and to get more information about the fundraiser, contact the group's founder and executive director, Patricia D'Accolti, 516-512-8922.
You might consider . . .
LONG ISLAND FOUNDATION FOR EDUCATION AND SPORTS offers community-based tennis and golf to children, teens and adults on Long Island, and after-school programs to children in the Port Jefferson School District.
Contact: 631-642-8081 or liffes.org
TEAM HEROES INC. gives autistic children the opportunity to participate in sports in an integrated setting. Sports teams are specifically organized to meet the individual needs of the children on those teams. Volunteers help special-education teachers coach the teams and help the children become successful teammates.
Contact: Ellen Thalhamer, firstname.lastname@example.org; teamheroessports.com
For more volunteer information and opportunities, contact the LONG ISLAND VOLUNTEER CENTER at 516-564-5482