“When you are the parent of a special needs child, the journey is a tough one. You face many obstacles, many judgements, and many defeats. But, if you are very lucky, an angel intervenes and for our family that angel is Shannon Schafer,” said Sue Russo who spoke at Schafer Sports Center’s ribbon cutting ceremony on July 29th at 5 Graphics Drive in Ewing. Ms. Russo’s daughter, Julia, lives with a disability and has taken gymnastics for many years at Schafer’s Gymnastics in Lawrenceville.
The decision to move the successful Schafer’s Gymnastics business and expand upon its programs has been a joint dream of husband and wife team, Jonathan and Shannon Schafer. Jonathan Schafer opened Schafer Gymnastics in 1988 in Lawrenceville. After marrying, Shannon joined her husband’s business in 2001, focusing her efforts on teaching gymnastics to children living with disabilities.
The new 38,000 sq.ft. facility includes a turf field available for teams to rent, two party rooms, a cafe leased by Deli Licious, a dance studio leased by Dance Network, a warm-water swimming pool, and elite Gymnastics equipment. More than 250 weekly classes and 3,000 children will participate in swimming, soccer, dance, lacrosse, gymnastics, and flag football.
Schafer Sports is all about education,” says CEO Jonathan Schafer. “Our goal is to build kids’ self-esteem and instill the life lesson that learning is fun. It’s an honor to work with kids and help guide them in being healthy and happy.”
President and COO, Shannon Schafer, believes that sports are an avenue for building confidence, strength, independence, and emotional, behavioral and social skills. Each child living with a disability is evaluated by Shannon and an individualized program is created to grow skills needed while participating in a chosen sport.
“In this facility, a thousand eyes will light up when they come in and find their self-worth. They’ll see their abilities, not their disabilities,” said NJ State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora.
The result of Shannon’s passion for helping children living with special needs is the creation of many new programs and expansion of existing ones. She plans to continue to offer private and group special needs-specific classes and will soon launch “Project Unified.” This is a program where athletes, with and without disabilities, will participate together in development-focused classes and competitive teams. Her Special Olympics gymnastics team will continue their training at the new facility and, through a partnership with Hopewell Valley Regional School District, has hired two young adults with special needs.
Despite a long week at the Democratic National Convention, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes also attended the ribbon cutting. He said that he had to come to the ceremony because of the “Schafer’s love of community and their love of all children, including children who need special programming.”
Hughes explained that his younger brother lives with blindness, “He grew up being told, ‘you can’t play sports, you can’t drive a car, you’ll never ride a bike, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t.’ That man is now a full tenured professor at the University of Michigan. He showed everyone, ‘Yes you can.’ It takes a heart, a beating heart, to have this kind of love for community and love for children, to build this kind of effort.”
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