Pictured are Brian Sutherland, IM ABLE Foundation Director of Development, Amanda Garber, Penn National Gaming Foundation Executive Director, Chris Kaag, IM ABLE Foundation Founder and Executive Director, and Eric Schippers, Penn National Gaming Sr. Vice President, Public Affairs & Govt. Relations
IM ABLE Foundation is launching a new program in 2020 matching veteran mentors with children with disabilities, “Operation Lead from the Front.” The Foundation’s Founder and Executive Director, Chris Kaag, was serving as a Marine when he was diagnosed with adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN) at 21. “AMN is a rare degenerative condition; my physical ability declined rapidly and I will be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I could have given up. Instead, it motivated me to assist other individuals with disabilities. I started the IM ABLE Foundation in 2007. It gave me a new purpose, a new mission. We ran a pilot for the program in 2019 and it was as successful as we had hoped. My goal with this program is to give other veterans a new mission and get these kids more active. The added benefit here is the kids get to learn life lessons from those who have served.
“Whether disabled or able-bodied, we all have challenges,” said Eric Schippers, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs for Penn National Gaming. “But athletes of all abilities can celebrate grit, grind, struggle, perseverance, determination, and accomplishment. Penn National has been proud to support IM ABLE over the years and see the potential for this new program to have a huge impact on veterans and these kids.”
Alan Coderre, the USMC veteran in Operation Lead from the Front’s pilot, called Chris the night after he started working with Robert, a young man with cerebral palsy, “that kid right there, he changed my life.” Looking back on what it’s meant to him over the year, Alan said, “Robert’s stronger than I am. He wants to be the hardest working man in the room. If he can do what he’s doing with what he’s got, why can’t I? It’s something I look forward to all week. When he’s working me out and I’m working him out, it’s the weight of a house lifted off my shoulders. It eases my mind. My wife says I’m in such a better mood after working out with Robert. I tell Robert he’s not allowed to call it a disability; it’s a gift.”
The mission of the IM ABLE Foundation is to remove obstacles that prevent people affected by disabilities from being physically active by providing grants, resources, fitness opportunities and motivation. We change attitudes about the potential of disabled individuals by redefining what is possible. For more information or to support IM ABLE’s mission to provide opportunities for people with adaptive needs, please go to https://imablefoundation.org.