Member of Adelphi University’s 10 Under 10.“I like going to work every day. I love what I do.”—Lisa Innella ’08, M.A. ’11
Lisa Innella has dedicated herself to providing children with sensory impairments opportunities that might not be available to them otherwise, and empowering them to be physically active members of their schools, communities, and societies.
“I always knew I was going to work with people with special needs. I just wasn’t sure in what capacity,” she said. Her interest grew during high school, when she spent time working with her peers with autism and Down syndrome during her lunch periods and got involved in volunteering at programs such as Special Olympics and the Nassau County Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged.
By the time she was applying for colleges, she was sure she wanted to study physical education, which she believed would allow her to combine her love for sports with her passion for working with individuals with special needs.
When she arrived at Adelphi, she found what she called a home away from home. “It was a great physical education program, small enough that it felt like a community,” she said. “Adelphi totally prepared me. When I went to conferences and workshops with people from different colleges and universities, I always felt like my Adelphi classmates and I had already accomplished in our classes the topic being covered.”
Ten days after graduating with her bachelor’s degree from the University, she received a physical education job offer. “I wouldn’t have been able to interview as confidently as I did had it not been for the educational background Adelphi provided me.”
That same summer, she traveled to Brockport, New York to volunteer at Camp Abilities Brockport, a week-long developmental sports camp for children and teens who are blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind. “I fell in love with the concept, everything about it,” said Ms. Innella. “It got me thinking that we didn’t have anything like it on Long Island.”
During her first year of teaching, she established a chapter of Camp Abilities on Long Island. After securing a location for the camp—Adelphi University, where they use Adelphi’s athletic facilities and residence halls—she sought volunteers; college students interested in or pursuing degrees in physical and special education from different universities. She found families who would be interested in having their children participate in the camp, drawing on relationships she had established volunteering at programs years prior and following a presentation to the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, who spread the word about Camp Abilities Long Island.
The first summer she was getting the camp off the ground, she drove a trailer eight hours up to Brockport, borrowed their equipment, and drove back down the same day to have it on campus for camp, and drove it all back right after camp concluded. But the more than 30 hours of driving didn’t faze her. “I’m the type of person who, if I set my mind to something, is going to do it, however that may be.”
Throughout the camp, visually-impaired children athletes, with one-on-one instruction, are taught sports tailored to their special needs, such as goal ball, tandem biking, beep baseball, and track and field. “We play games all kids are playing, but modify them by adding beepers or bells, turning things from visual to tactile and auditory. And we teach the children how they can bring the adjustments we make at camp back home to play in their neighborhoods with their peers.”
Before they start activities, Ms. Innella has her counselors fill out questionnaires with the campers about what sports they have played. “Nine times out of ten, the children have never participated in the sports we are going to teach them,” she said. “You don’t realize how many firsts this camp makes possible for children.”
Ms. Innella is looking to make an impact that lasts far beyond the week children participate in Camp Abilities Long Island. Campers are sent home with in depth assessments of their abilities on each sport and activity to increase their parents and physical educators’ understanding of their abilities. In addition, through this experience, undergraduate and graduate volunteers learn how to teach sports and recreational activities to children with sensory impairments that they can then implement in their classrooms, therefore impacting the lives of other students with sensory impairments throughout their careers.
Summer 2013 marked the fifth year of Camp Abilities Long Island, and it continues to grow. Since 2009, Ms. Innella has attracted more campers and volunteers; expanded and added programs, such as swimming and martial arts; earned non-profit status so she can apply for grants to support programming; and purchased permanent equipment for the camp.
Ms. Innella, who completed her master’s degree in health education with a specialization in adaptive physical education from Adelphi, has been asked to share her expertise and experience with students at the University by teaching a sensory impairment class. “I was 22 teaching my first graduate-level class!” she said. “It was something I never thought I’d do.”
During the academic year, you can find her teaching physical and adapted physical education in the New Hyde Park Garden City Park School District. When asked her favorite part of her work, she responds: everything. “Just seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces or hearing their excitement when they accomplish something I’ve taught them…I love working with kids,” she said. “Everybody says, ‘ugh I dread going to work.’ I like going to work every day. I love what I do.”