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Bringing sports to children with special needs

At Kicks for Kids events, developmental or physical disabilities don’t matter

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Volunteering at Spirits in Action — USC’s annual version of the Special Olympics — Zade Shakir ’14 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.

“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 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.

A part of childhood

Shakir grew up in San Jose, the son of immigrants from Iraq. Organized sports were a major part of his childhood.

“It really troubled me that children with special needs are excluded from these programs because of disabilities they are born with,” said Shakir, whose soccer-playing skills earned him a place in the Olympic Development Program at age 11.

Alumnus Zade Shakir

Alumnus Zade Shakir, who helps special needs kids flex their muscles, notes that obesity rates are 40 percent higher for children with disabilities. (USC Dornsife photo)

Adding to his resolve were statistics comparing children with disabilities to those without. Among children with disabilities, obesity rates are 40 percent higher and they are three times more likely to be bullied at school.

Now becoming a national nonprofit, Shakir’s organization may be expanded to other universities nationwide.

“I wanted to provide a place where kids like Erick could come and play without fear of being bullied or feeling left out,” Shakir said. “I’m thrilled Kicks for Kids is achieving that goal.”


Kicks for Kids starts off new semester (Daily Trojan, Feb. 23, 2014)

Kicks for Kids establishes connection with disabled children (Daily Trojan, Sept. 23, 2013)

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Bringing sports to children with special needs

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