Buddy Ball founder Billy Shain will tell you that his entire life has been filled with exposures and opportunities to learn more about individuals with disabilities. These opportunities have led to an 11-year journey of providing engaging sports experiences to various ages of children through Two Rivers Buddy Ball. So, recently, when Shain recognized a need to provide a disability-friendly Easter egg hunt, he couldn’t help but oblige.
Shain said he had been wanting to arrange an Easter egg hunt for several years and had researched different programs across the United States.
“Nobody was doing it the way I thought it needed to be done,” Shain said. “You’ve got some kids that have mobility issues — they might see an egg near the wall, but can’t get there.”
Shain scheduled the hunt and began to spread the word throughout the special needs community and received responses back from families as far as Evansville.
“I thought we were going to have 20 to 25 kids show up and we got 75 — and this is our first year,” Shain said.
As each family responded, Shain collected information about food and allergy concerns, as well as disability-specific needs. This allowed Shain and his volunteers to make the necessary accommodations for each child that would be participating.
On Saturday, Yellow Creek Baptist Church gymnasium was set up for a one-of-a-kind egg hunting experience. Various multi-colored inflatable pools were filled with a total of 7,000 plastic eggs.
Tabletop pools that held 1,000 eggs a piece allowed five children at a time to wade through the eggs to search for matching animal shapes. One table was lowered with the needs of smaller children in mind, while another pool was filled with small tactile “hedgehog eggs” so two vision-impaired children could locate them more easily.
A larger inflatable pool was set up on the floor to accommodate wheelchair-bound children who were lowered into the pool before it was filled with eggs. The children were then free to navigate the pool searching for Velcro balls with Velcro bats.
Once the children accomplished each of their tasks they received a ticket that they redeemed for a prize bag created specifically with each child’s needs in mind.
Children with chewing issues had bags with easy to swallow cotton candy and gels, while children with food issues were given age-appropriate toys and those with visual impairments had “squishies” in place of traditional games.
Once the children with special needs were finished searching, their siblings were able to hunt as well. Hot dogs, nachos and chips were all provided at no cost, as well as sugar cookies that children of every ability level could decorate themselves.
“Everything we do is free of charge,” Shain said. “We have had that from day one and this is the 11th year and we have not charged one penny for anything.”
Shain said, although there was no charge to the families, he tried to do everything at as minimal a cost as possible with funds donated throughout the year. He estimated that the Easter egg hunt cost approximately $1,100-$1,200. His hope is that $700-$800 can be stored for next year, as the other items were perishable and consumable food items that could not be reused.
Overall, Shain and the parents were pleased with the results of the hunt, saying it kept in line with all three of the Buddy Ball rules in a caring, non-judgmental environment.
“There are three rules, they must have fun, don’t get hurt and go home tired,” Shain said.
When he is not coordinating Buddy Ball activities, Shain is a school bus driver and a volunteer firefighter with the Thruston Philpot Fire Department, which both keep in line with his heart for serving others.
“We’ve been truly blessed — we really have,” Shain said. “I love it. I get my joy from the kids smiling — I don’t have to have the riches of the world. I have the smiles and that’s good enough for me. I just think this was something I was meant to do.”