Rock Bridge High School students grow adaptive sports not-for-profit, one step at a time

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This article was published on the Columbia Daily Tribune by Roger McKinney on July 16, 2021.

When Rock Bridge High School students Kinley Schade and Sriya Pokala started a not-for-profit in tandem with the start of the pandemic, they had no idea it would grow as it has in 16 months.

Their not-for-profit organization, Difference One Step at A Time, has raised more than $5,000 for adaptive sports programs for children with disabilities and now is in 10 states. The name is short for “making a difference one step at a time.”

Kinley, 16, and Sriya, 15, are rising juniors at Rock Bridge.

The two had volunteered with students in the special education program at Mill Creek Elementary School, doing activities with them, but the pandemic put a halt to that.

They started their website and not-for-profit in March 2020.

“It started out pretty small,” Sriya said.

“It took awhile to figure out specifics of what we wanted to do and how,” Kinley said.

“It took a lot of time,” Sriya said.

As tennis players, they said they wanted to raise money for adaptive sports programs for children with disabilities to help eliminate barriers that prevent or hinder them from participating in sports.

Sports are good for one’s health and well-being, they said.

“It’s not always super-accessible,” Sriya said.

“We just take it for granted,” Kinley said of able-bodied people.

They held their first fundraiser in July 2020, selling about 300 cupcakes and raising $1,315 for the Disabled Athlete Sports Association. The nationwide organization has a location in Columbia.

A second fundraiser in November 2020 was a virtual race, with participants raising money and running, walking or riding a specific distance in their locations. Or they could just donate the money without the distance.

The race raised $1,110 for DanceAbility. Operated through the School of Missouri Contemporary Ballet, DanceAbility gives dancers with different abilities (ages 4 through adult) an opportunity to learn and explore the world of dance, its website states.

Sriya raised around $4,000 for DanceAbility at a solo Indian dance performance she did.

The money has helped because the organization had to cancel some regular fundraisers, said Kendall Lademann, with DanceAbility and Missouri Contemporary Ballet.

“We are so grateful for all of the effort that Sriya and Kinley have put into raising money for DanceAbility,” Lademann wrote in an email. “Last year we were not able to hold all of our fundraisers, so their donation helped us provide a performance opportunity for our students in the spring of 2021.”

Through family and friends, the not-for-profit has spread to Illinois, Tennessee, Florida, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maine and California. Each location raises money for adaptive sports programs in their states. People like to know the money is going to a local source, they said.

Some have also found them through Instagram, they said.

“We Zoom with all of our state leads, to explain the project,” Sriya said.

In Illinois, there was a potted flower sale to raise money. The father of the state lead for Maine raises chickens, and she sells eggs as a fundraiser, raising around $200. There were cookie sales in California.

An anonymous donor has pledged to match all donations until the end of the year. Donations can be made on the website.

Both Kinley and Sriya said they are pleased with how their project has grown, but surprised.

“We never imagined it would grow this fast,” Kinley said.