Shake-A-Leg of­fers Bay Days to build com­mu­nity ca­ma­raderie

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Go! - By Joanie Cox-Henry South Florida Par­ent­ing edi­[email protected]­par­ent­ing.com, Face­book @SouthFlori­daPar­ent­ing or Twit­ter @sf­par­ent­ing

A sea of wheel­chairs and smiles line the docks at the ma­rina along South Bayshore Drive in Co­conut Grove as adults, teens and chil­dren are trans­ported to boats and kayaks for Shake-ALeg Mi­ami’s Bay Days, which take place one Sat­ur­day or Sun­day each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Bay Days of­fer hourly boat rides along Bis­cayne Bay, with mu­sic and food, and it’s free and open to the pub­lic with a RSVP via Shake-A-Leg’s Face­book page (face­book.com/ ShakeALegMi­ami). The next one is Sun­day, Jan. 6.

“We re­ally be­lieve there is magic in the Bay,” said Harry Hor­gan, CEO and pres­i­dent of Shake-A-Leg Mi­ami.

“Through our com­mu­nity out­reach ef­forts, we came up with Bay Days. We set up a theme for each month. There’s strength in com­mu­nity. Our goal is to get ev­ery kid and adult with dis­abil­i­ties out on the wa­ter.”

Shake-A-Leg is a not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that works with chil­dren and adults with phys­i­cal, de­vel­op­men­tal and eco­nomic chal­lenges in a marine en­vi­ron­ment. It also helps dis­abled veter­ans.

Af­ter an au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent left Hor­gan par­a­lyzed, the vi­sion to start Shake-A-Leg Mi­ami was born.

“Many are go­ing on the wa­ter for the first time,” Hor­gan said.

Hor­gan be­lieves with the right at­ti­tude, team and proper equip­ment, any­thing is pos­si­ble.

“Kids are matched with men­tors and all of the stu­dents re­ally leave here with a deeper sense of em­pa­thy,” Hor­gan said. “Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties of­ten get stereo­typed. There is no bul­ly­ing here. Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are em­pow­ered here.”

On week­days, Shake-A-Leg Mi­ami of­fers the BRIDGE Pro­gram in part­ner­ship with Mi­ami-Dade County Pub­lic Schools, of­fer­ing a school-year pro­gram for stu­dents work­ing to­ward a spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion diploma.

“Kids come here and build ev­ery­thing from hand/eye co­or­di­na­tion to learn how to be part of a team,” Hor­gan said. “We also of­fer kayak­ing, fish­ing and sail­ing in­struc­tion.”

Danny Ot­ter, 30, be­gan vol­un­teer­ing at Shake-A-Leg Mi­ami when he was 12. The ex­pe­ri­ence had such a pro­found im­pact on his life, the yacht cap­tain con­tin­ues to vol­un­teer with the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“At a young age, work­ing at Shake-ALeg Mi­ami taught me the ben­e­fit of help­ing oth­ers,” said Ot­ter, who is in the Coast Guard Re­serves.

Craig Kirk, who is the wa­ter sports and week­end man­ager at Shake-A-Leg Mi­ami, hopes to reach more po­ten­tial vol­un­teers through Bay Days.

“It’s amaz­ing how many peo­ple still don’t know about us, but Bay Days is def­i­nitely help­ing to get the word out,” said Kirk, who has taught more than 1,000 stu­dents at Shake-A-Leg how to sail.

“This or­ga­ni­za­tion means ev­ery­thing to me. Peo­ple with phys­i­cal and men­tal dis­abil­i­ties as well as those with no dis­abil­i­ties have learned to fish, swim, sail and kayak here. I’ve watched kids who haven’t spo­ken in five years sud­denly start speak­ing. Many of the stu­dents who vol­un­teer here also change their ma­jors to ca­reers in phys­i­cal ther­apy.”

Visit ShakeaLegMi­ami.org for more in­for­ma­tion.

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