Children donate beach wheelchairs to North County lifeguards

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SOLANA BEACH, Calif. — Six hundred children attending a day camp at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church put hands to their hearts this summer when they raised money to purchase three all-terrain beach wheelchairs. The special-order chairs were presented Oct. 20 to lifeguards in Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas.

The children, ages 4 to 12, cashed out their piggy banks and allowances, did additional chores, and operated lemonade stands to raise the $7,000 needed for the chairs. The fundraising event was bolstered by two families who also contributed significant money to the effort, according to Lori Clarke Balzano, the church's director of children's ministries.

"Our kids have a heart for other people, and they are willing and able to mobilize in ways we never thought of. The strength of the kids, quite frankly, surprised us."

In addition to purchasing the three chairs, the children also raised enough money for repairs to several broken devices, which means the three stations will now have about eight chairs in commission.

The children, all attending a weeklong "SportsJam" camp, spent much of the week learning about people with disabilities, their daily routines, hobbies and other lifestyle issues. Many of the sports and other activities also focused on the disabled.

"For many kids, it was an eye-opening and heart-expanding experience to find out what it is really like for a person with a mental or physical impairment to get around in life," Tom Theriault, assistant pastor at Solana Beach Presbyterian, said in a news release.

In all, 600 children attended the camp, aided by 200 adult volunteers.

"We wanted to impress upon the kids that God made every person unique and for a purpose and that we are much more alike than we are different," Clarke Balzano said.

The camp, which has been in operation for years, also includes an annual "compassion offering." Previous years' offerings went to such organizations as the Special Olympics and the Polinsky Children's Center.

"This year, for some reason, the kids were really fired up," she said, adding that having a specific target inspired the youngsters.

 "(Having a specific target) was very concrete," she said. "I think that helped the kids."

During the beachside dedication the young campers were on hand to present the lifeguards with the bright green Landeez Chairs that come with oversized wheels to maneuver through difficult terrain. Disabled beachgoers Brad Justin and Nancy Perry-Sheridan demonstrated how to use the chairs at Moonlight Beach and Del Mar respectively.

Their gift drew praises from the Surfrider Foundation, which advocates open access to beaches worldwide.

"Beach access is a right for people of all backgrounds, ages and ability levels," Jim Moriarty, CEO of the foundation, said in a news release.
During the ceremony children read an inscription on the back of each chair and said a prayer of dedication followed by a celebration with light snacks.

Clarke Balzano said the children managed to reflect the church's goal of working outside the chapel walls.

"I think it really speaks to one's character about God's desire that we care about the community; we care about others," she said.

"It's heartwarming to me to really function in a church in such a different way, to be really outwardly focused."