University of Southern California


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Bringing sports to children with special needs

Volunteering at Spirits in Action — USC’s annual version of the Special Olympics — Zade Shakir met Erick, a severely autistic young man who had trouble verbalizing emotions.

Erick’s love of sport, however, was obvious.

“There was genuine passion in the way he kicked a soccer ball,” said Shakir, who earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and biology in 2014.

“Speaking to Erick’s mother after the event, I realized there are very few resources for children with physical and developmental disabilities, particularly in organized sports.”

Erick inspired Shakir to found Kicks for Kids at USC. The program started in September 2013 with 30 children and 50 volunteers. Dedicated to promoting a healthy, active lifestyle for special needs children, Shakir’s organization now counts 510 volunteers and 300 players. During sessions held at the heart of the USC University Park Campus at McCarthy Quad, youngsters are matched with student volunteers for one-on-one sporting activities. Children also receive a free nutritious snack and tips on healthy living. Read more here.