Adaptive Recreation Services: Involving the Eugene Community In A Different Way

The snow slides underneath their skis. The wind whips against their cheeks. It’s all smiles as they glide down the mountain, carving into the hill with precision. As they approach the bottom of the slope, they gather as a group to go over technique and plans for the next run.

Yet, these skiers are different than most: they defy the restricting stereotypes of being disabled. Adaptive Recreation Services allows them to do so.

Since 1969, Adaptive Recreation Services has provided a recreational program to people with disabilities through its offices at the Hilyard Community Center. As a part of the City of Eugene’s Recreation Division, ARS offers year-round, community-based recreational, social and educational programs to children, teens and adults with disabilities.

This population can benefit from programs and events like Adaptive Recreation Services in countless ways. From improved self-esteem and empowerment, to increased physical and cognitive function and overall health, these people gain a sense of independence from recreational activities that can help their overall quality of life.

Almost anyone can enroll in ARS’s programs, with participants having disabilities ranging from drug recovery to visual impairments to mental illnesses. Its main goal is to include everyone who comes has the drive and desire to be a part of the community.

“You have to be open and honest and supportive of everyone that walks through our doors,” says Patty Prather, director of Adaptive Recreation Services for the past nine years.

Because of this openness, Adaptive Recreation has become one of the most trusted programs for disability services in the Eugene area. After winning the 2009 Convention Leadership Award and the ANCOR Foundation’s Community builder Award, ARS has come to be known across the nation and has put Eugene on the map as a progressive and inclusive community.

Gaining this nationwide recognition gives ARS acknowledgment in its field of work. One of the new Therapeutic Recreation interns, Kelly Cahlander, came from Minnesota for an experience with Adaptive Recreation after graduating from Winona State University. She sees this type of program as an important way to ultimately improve the quality of life of the participants she has the opportunity to work with.

Like Cahlander, the Recreation Division’s website agrees that the city of Eugene is “committed to making all reasonable efforts to ensure that its facilities, programs and services are accessible to and usable by all people, including individuals with disabilities.” ARS follows this motivation to the T.

Gaining Confidence to Build Confidence

Heidi von Ravensberg, a visually impaired participant and disability law attorney, has been involved with Adaptive Recreation for years. After losing her sight completely just after high school, she has spent 25 years learning to live in a world that does not always cater to people with disabilities.

“As I was losing my eyesight, [recreation] was not available to me because it was all geared towards people with sight,” von Ravensberg says. “It was kind of like, ‘How do I fit in and get included in this?’”

Because of ARS and the programs it offers, she has finally had the chance to get involved with the activities she enjoyed so much as a kid.

With help from the Adaptive Recreation staff and services in general, von Ravensberg was finally able to get back into a lap pool to swim like she had in her days with vision. After calling Adaptive Recreation to see what kind of swimming programs von Ravensberg could be a part of, Patty Prather facilitated private orientation sessions to make sure she was familiar with the locker rooms and pool in general. Prather worked with lifeguards to make sure they assisted von Ravensberg in finding a lane each time she came to the pool, and even fought with health officials to keep her guide dog on the pool deck with her.

This was not something she was used to after being out in the world so geared toward people without any disabilities. Swimming with other people in the lane was difficult without any vision, and ARS seemed to understand these challenges exactly.

“When they facilitated my orientation to the swimming pool, everyone was just really comfortable with it,” von Ravensberg says of her first visit to ARS. “It just really empowers people and makes everything really pleasant.”

Now, von Ravensberg can swim independently wherever she wants thanks to the tips and skills she has learned from the many people at Adaptive Recreation, both staff and participants.

In fact, Adaptive Recreation Services hires people with disabilities on a regular basis to teach programs themselves and show the participants to trust that they really can do everything they set out to do. These employees act as role model for other people with disabilities, whether it’s Cerebral Palsy, Autism, or physical handicaps. With similar people coming together to work, learn and play, Prather has seen first-hand how it boosts participants’ morale and self-esteem.

Joe Basey, 34, is a current instructor at Adaptive Recreation as well as a huge advocate for disabled people in the Eugene community. An active member of the Eugene Faith Center, he is also involved with the AUCD Council on Community Advocacy (COCA), the Lane Transition Linkage Coalition, the Community Accessibility Ministry, the Oregon Youth Leadership Forum, is a Legislative Affairs liaison and an AUCD Multicultural Council member, to name a few.

His efforts for inclusion and support reach across many spectrums of age, race, ethnicity and abilities. As a person with cerebral palsy, Basey knows the struggles of exclusion first-hand, and has fought for disability support and services for his entire life.

“I can’t begin to describe to you how it feels to be involved with projects that have the potential to help so many people,” he says. “I love the combination of working for Adaptive Recreation and serving the people within my faith community and my local community.”

Another huge advocate of disability services is Karissa Whitsell, a blind Paralympian that lost her vision at a young age. Not wanting to give up her love for bicycling, she started Eye-Cycle, a local group that coordinates tandem bicycles that allows a visually impaired person to ride a bike with the help of a sited “pilot.”

In between Paralympic training on her own bike, Whitsell coordinates with ARS and Patty Prather to teach other people with disabilities how to continue living actively.

Thanks to this partnership, von Ravensberg was finally able to get back on a bicycle after over 25 years. With four to five tandem bicycles from this program, von Ravensberg could be active and social with a friend in the front seat or an ARS volunteer as her pilot.

“I was going stir-crazy and being able to get out and cycle has just been wonderful,” von Ravensberg says. “I had no idea that tandem-cycling was that involved or could be that simple.”

As Prather explains, those with physical disabilities are less trusting when it comes to physical activity because there is more apprehension and fear around the idea of whether they actually can do these things. Once they do realize what is possible, Prather knows she’s in the right place.

“When they see what they can do and say ‘I want to come back,’ that’s success,” she says. “It reminds me of why I do what I do.”

Prather has been doing this type of work since 1980 for a reason, after all. As she says, she has the ability and sensitivity to work with people with challenging behaviors and has gained trust from everyone she works with.

“It’s about the relationships and impact that I can contribute to someone’s life,” Prather says. “This is my life’s work, this is my passion; It’s not just a job.”

Funding A Charitable Organization

Financing for ARS comes out of the city’s own budget, user fees and donations. The organization as a whole is heavily subsidized, as 75 percent of its budget comes from the city of Eugene alone.

“The city believes in equity for all of its citizens,” Prather says. “It sees value in the program.”

Adaptive Recreation also provides scholarships to people who would otherwise not be able to pay for programs, prohibiting them from being active at all. Sponsors help decrease the cost of each individual so that ARS can pay for 75 percent of the class, or up to $150 per year.

Prather believes that everybody has a need and a want to recreate and therefore tries to make this happen for any and every participant she can. However, with the recent economy, Adaptive Recreation is seeing a decrease in donations as well as their budget from the city.

“Funding is the biggest frustration,” Prather says. “I won’t deny services of someone based on financial need, but we need money to do this.”

Collaborative partners have proven to be a crucial resource with the many services ARS offers. Adaptive Recreation has made new partnerships to fundraise and bring in more gear for participants. Money for this equipment comes from the budget itself, grants, donations, and partnerships with companies to “loan” equipment out.

These partnerships include the University of Oregon, Eyecycle, skiing with Hoodoo Ski Resort, and many adaptive equipment companies that provide bikes, skis, and general-access chairs.

Without the money to hire more staff, Prather also has to rely more on the organization’s volunteer base to direct programs and keep everything up and running. The university provides a huge number of volunteers through its Family and Human Services, special education, psychology and human physiology program, and brings more every year.

“What brings people back is the relationships people build,” Prather says. “It changes people’s lives and perceptions of people.”

Adaptive Recreation in the Future

To keep variety and to include more groups of people in their services, Adaptive Recreation hosts different clinics every summer to see what works for future long-standing programs and what can be done to improve the current programs offered.

For example, the “Wounded Warrior Project” was started for returning veterans who experience PTSD, physical disabilities or severe brain injury. By bringing them together, this group can gain a shared sense of understanding in that they have experienced similar trauma.

“We bring them together in a recreational way, but also to heal,” Prather says.

Through activities and social programs, people with all types of disabilities can get together and know that they have been through similar experiences and difficulties that most other people cannot identify with or understand.

“People with disabilities are isolated and don’t have a common camaraderie to understand the daily ins and outs,” Prather says. “It’s that one thing that draws them together.”

For this reason, she hopes to provide services like this for the rest of her life, giving back to her community, yet also setting the legacy for future generations to mentor new participants, staff, and volunteers.

Her ultimate goal for the future is that society as a whole welcomes people with all types of disabilities and that there doesn’t have to be segregated programs like Adaptive Recreation for people to be able to recreate.

“There is so much stuff I want to accomplish,” says Joe Basey of his life as an advocate for people with disabilities. “I’m a very blessed person with so many people behind me cheering me on.”


Sidebar 1: How to Contribute

Get involved as a Volunteer!

  • Help with instructors to teach classes and guide skill-building activities
  • Assist with special events to set-up and clean up
  • Give special help to individual participants
  • Support, encourage, and spend time in a social setting with participants

Contact Gayle Hein at 541-682-6327, fill out the Volunteer Interest Form or check the volunteer brochure to get started today.

Activities include:

– Camps

– Dances

– Inclusion Sports

– Skill-building and fitness classes

– Social skill groups

– Trips and excursions

Opportunities to get involved are available at different sites seven days a week between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Fill out the Volunteer Interest Profile to get started: 

Get an Internship!

A Therapeutic Recreation Internship is a 14 week/40 hour per week commitment that includes an individually designed internship based on program needs, specific university requirements, and the intern’s personal goals. The overall objective of an internship with Adaptive Recreation is to give students a meaningful experience in a community recreation program like this one. With programs designed for people with developmental, physical or emotional disabilities in different age groups, dedication is key to a successful internship. For a current listing of available programs, browse the online recreation guide.

Interns will assist Adaptive Recreation instructors in planning and instruction, provide one-on-one participant support, and pose as a group leader under instructor supervision. Student interns are a part of the daily operations at ARS including staff meetings, program design and planning, community outreach, and much more.

For more information concerning internships, contact Adaptive Recreation Services at 541-682-5311 or contact Andy Fernandez at

There is also a specific University of Oregon internship available that depends on the student’s individual requirements for his or her major, needs, interests, as well as time availability. For details, contact Patty Prather at 541-682-6365.


Sidebar 2: Participant and Program Information

Who Can Participate?

  • People dealing with alcoholism and drug recovery
  • People who have experienced a stroke or multiple strokes
  • People with autism
  • People with cerebral palsy
  • People with head injuries
  • People with hearing problems
  • People with intellectual disabilities
  • People with mental or emotional illness
  • People with multiple sclerosis
  • People with spina bifida
  • People with visual impairments
  • Veterans with disabilities or experiencing trauma

Click here to fill out the Participant Form:

What Kind of Activities Are Offered?

Adaptive Recreation plans different classes and activities for people with disabilities as well as their families and friends. Click on the link to the activities below to see more information about the current programs offered and how to sign up!

Rental Equipment

Equipment Rental allows participants to try things out, be involved in multiple sports, flexibility and freedom in timing and location, as well as affordability and independence.

Equipment Available:

Handcycles and Adaptive Bikes:

  •  Adult Handcycle: Top End Excelerator
  • Adult Trike: EZ-3
  • Child or Adult Hand Cycle:
  • Top end Excelerator XLT
  • Top End Excelerator XLT JR
  • Kidz Tandem
  • Rifton Ranger
  • Side by Side Trike: Workman
  • Tandem: Burley
  • Trailercycle: Picollo Burley
  • Triton Bike
  • Versa Trike


  • All Terrain Wheelchair: Hippocampe
  • Beach Wheelchair: Landeez

Snow Skis:

  • Adapted Sled
  • Bi-Skis: Adult
  • C-5 Cuffs:
  • Mono-Skis: Adult and child
  • Sit Ski: Adult and child
  • Stand up Outrigger

Go online for rates, information and details:

About lilybnelson

Hi! My name is Lily Nelson and I come from the glorious state of Utah. Nestled between mountains at 6,000 feet, I find comfort in a good hike, dogs, the trees, crossword puzzles, campfires, kitchen utensils, family, friends, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Between my sense of humor and my strong need for things to flow with rhythm and meaning, I have always been able to express myself best through my way with words. Maybe it’s because I come from a family of writers, but sometimes I feel like I spend too much time focusing on words, finding the English section on the ACT to be a good time or reading novels in Spanish while on the treadmill. Yet, in a way this trait of mine has been a blessing disguise, making me realize that whatever I happen to do with my life must fulfill my love for the written word, no matter which language.
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