Free ‘Dreamers’ football camp for special needs kids

Photo courtesy of Mark Valencia

California Football Academy’s second annual free Dreamers Camp will take place Saturday, Aug. 24, at Laurel Ball Park.

California Football Academy (CFA) will hold its second annual free flag football Dreamers Camp for special needs children ages 6 to 15 on Saturday, Aug. 24.

The camp, organized by Mark Valencia and Judi Westerberg, pairs campers with “buddies” – volunteer CFA athletes – and will include drills, running for touchdowns and other exercises and games.

Valencia, a CFA coach of five years, thought to start the camp because he wanted to build empathy among special needs kids and others within the community. His 12-year-old son, Gabriel, is autistic, and he has seen firsthand the kind of impact these partnerships can have for kids.

“I have a unique perspective as a coach and as a parent of a special needs kid,” Valencia said. “We want to get children with special needs out of their comfort zones and give them new opportunities they might not get very often.”

He also wants to help break down some of the barriers.

“The football is just a vehicle,” he said. “I want other kids in the community to see that special needs kids are just like you and I; they just have different mechanics.”

Last year’s camp, held in November, had 12 campers and more than 20 coaches and volunteers. He said it was a great success – and CFA would like to double those numbers this year and reach more kids.

All participating campers will receive a medal and a T-shirt with a “dreamers” logo designed by Gabriel Valencia.

The camp will be held at Laurel Ball Park, 850 Laurel Road, in Oakley from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Aug. 24. For more information, or to register to play or volunteer, visit Campers should register as soon as possible to allow for T-shirt orders.