Atlanta Falcons guard Harland Gunn signs a football for Grey Vetter, 8, of Gainesville during the Challanged Child & Friends bowling event at Dave & Busters at Sugarloaf Mills Mall in Lawrenceville on Wednesday. (Photo: Chris Roughgarden)
LAWRENCEVILLE — Small children standing side-by-side with grown men in Atlanta Falcons’ jerseys at a bowling alley can make for an interesting sight.
But when it’s for a great cause, the scene looks totally normal.
That was the case Wednesday night at Dave & Buster’s in Sugarloaf Mills as the Falcons organization teamed up with Challenged Child and Friends to raise money for the program.
Along with about a dozen Falcons players and coaches, including head coach Mike Smith, corporations and businesses sponsored the event through entry fees and enjoyed a fun night full of bowling and some good food.
“It’s a great organization to be a part of and a great opportunity for some of the young, challenged children to be here,” said Smith. “(CCAF) is close to our practice facility in Flowery Branch and we’ve spent some time on their campus up there (in Gainesville). We’ve got a good group of guys on our team who are really civic-minded and want to be a part of the community at events like this.”
Coaches and players autographed footballs, bowling pins and jerseys throughout the evening at Dave & Buster’s, which sponsored the event for the second straight year.
“This is my fourth year (with the Falcons) and I feel like every year there are fun events for us to be involved with in the community,” said Atlanta punter and kickoff specialist Matt Bosher. “This is my second year of doing this actual event and it’s so much fun getting out here with all these families and kids. These folks show us so much support during the season, so now we can show it back.”
CCAF was created when occupational therapist Jean Willers began providing services for a young boy who had been critically injured in an automobile accident.
That young boy, Randy Owens, is now grown and serves on the CCAF board of directors.
CCAF incorporated in 1985 as a nonprofit organization offering educational, nursing and family support services, plus physical, occupational and speech therapy.
In 1992, CCAF became a fully inclusive program providing a tailored and integrated experience where children with a variety of developmental delays and disabilities can learn and grow alongside with children who have typical development.
CCAF, which covers more than a dozen counties across northeast Georgia including Gwinnett, serves children as young as 6 weeks of age up to 6 years old.
With a staff-to-student ratio that averages one-to-four, individualized programs occur for all students enrolled.
CCAF also offers outpatient speech along with occupational and physical therapy services.
“A big thank you to Dave & Buster’s for this event and donating the facility and all the food,” said CCAF director of development and marketing Cindy Wilson. “We’re so appreciative. And (Coach Smith) is such a gracious host. This all happens because of him and it’s wonderful. We only get 45 percent of our budget from tuition, so we depend on fundraising events like this along with United Way and donors.
“I also need to mention (Falcons community relations and youth programs manager) Chris Millman, who is our connection to Dave & Buster’s and helped us get this great place to host the event.”
Ashley and Shawn Ellis of Cleveland are the parents of a 3-year-old girl, Bailey, who is in the program for developmental delays, along with a 1-year-old girl, Brooke, who also participates as part of the integrated experience through typical development.
“I can’t say enough good things about Challenged Child and what a wonderful program it has been for us,” said Ashley, who was attending the event for the first time. “We started Bailey in the program when she was a year old. They have done tremendous things for her and I think Bailey’s had a good time mingling with all the players.”