A special place for special-needs athletes

People with special needs are an important part of our community. They need to be valued and included in all of the opportunities and activities the rest of us take for granted.

The Foundation is helping do that through its grants program – recipients have included the True Friends, CHOICE Inc., and Chrestomathy organizations that serve disabled persons – and is also helping through its fiscal sponsorship program.

Today, in fact, is the “soft opening” of the new Lions United Fitness Center, a specially designed exercise facility for athletes with special needs. There’s generous space between rows of equipment, and staff specially trained to work with athletes who face different fitness challenges than you and me.

The idea of creating the Lions United Fitness Center – believed to be the first of its kind in Minnesota – was presented to the Foundation about one year ago by Andrew Cameron, its founder. Andrew needed a fiscal sponsor for his charitable endeavor, since he didn’t yet have his nonprofit status but hoped to get funding from organizations including the Saint Paul Foundation.

Fiscal sponsorship is one of the Foundation’s roles: offer tax-deductibility and a few administrative services to a fledgling organization trying to accomplish something great. Our fiscal sponsorship has helped local residents accomplish valuable additions to our community, such as the Eden Prairie Veterans Memorial and Eden Prairie Miracle Field.

Andrew achieved his goal, with the Foundation quietly offering a path. We wish Lions United Fitness Center had been located in Eden Prairie – at the time this Foundation fund was created, that was a strong possibility. But the market for rentable industrial space meant the ideal location turned out to be Mendota Heights, so Andrew will be serving the local special-needs population – and in fact the entire metro area – from Mendota Heights.

You can read more about Lions United Fitness Center in a Gail Rosenblum column that appeared in the “Inspired” section of last Saturday’s Star Tribune. Andrew had this to say about the Foundation’s fiscal sponsor role:

“Starting a nonprofit organization can be challenging. Especially when waiting for your nonprofit status to be approved. That is when I found Mark and the Eden Prairie Community Foundation. Lions United is a new kind of training center, designed specifically to prepare people with disabilities for exceptional performance in individual competitions, team sports, and life. Especially people with down syndrome, autism, and cerebral palsy. Mark and the EPCF sponsored our organization with open arms so we were able to take donations while our nonprofit status was being approved. Lions United believes that everybody deserves the chance to be the best version of themselves and we aim to make that happen. Without the EPCF our mission would not be possible. They have helped us take the first step in helping the special-needs community, one life at a time.”

So, good luck to the Lions United Fitness Center. We’re hoping many special-needs athletes pass through their doors.

Mark Weber About the Author Mark Weber has been the executive director of the Eden Prairie Community Foundation since October 2013. In this role, he enjoys meeting with Eden Prairie residents, and being an active member of the community. If you’d like to connect with Mark, call him at (952) 949-8499 or email him. You can also read Mark’s full biography.

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