Paquin Tower recreation program receives $10,000 gift

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 | 7:07 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Paquin Tower stands out along the short downtown skyline.

At 15 stories tall, the Columbia Housing Authority structure looms over the northeast edge of MU's campus, dwarfing the small houses on Paquin Street. It is, by Columbia standards, a monolithic building, and many of its residents are people with disabilities.

People who work and live nearby may not know they're welcome there. But the Adapted Community Recreation Program, based in the tower, invites the community to its wide-ranging activities, including ceramics and painting classes, bingo nights, dances and trips to the grocery store each month.

The program received a $10,000 donation Tuesday from Columbia Accessible Recreation at Paquin Tower, a disabilities rights group formed after former City Manager Bill Watkins proposed eliminating the city-funded program in 2008.

"After that happened, I worked with others in the community to raise an alternative source of income," Sean Spence, creator of the charitable group, said. Once the city promised to keep funding the program, his group agreed to keep raising money, he said.

"Most of our donors are regular folks in the community," Spence said. "They realized that for Columbia to be what we want it to be, we have to provide these kinds of services to people who need them."

Spence said the $10,000 would be used to purchase items the program needs but is not regularly budgeted to buy, including exercise equipment, craft supplies and a new craft cart approved by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Karen Ramey, superintendent of recreation and community programs at the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, oversees the Adapted Community Recreation Program. She said after the budget scare three-and-a-half years ago, the department also sought different funding sources for the program, including a partnership with Boone County Family Resources, a nonprofit organization.

In fiscal 2012, the Adapted Community Recreation Program received $75,907 from the Parks and Recreation Department, down from $88,000 in 2008. Boone County Family Resources contributed $16,000 this year, raising the program’s budget to $91,907. The gift from Spence's charity does not factor into that budget.

The program began in the early 1970s and now counts 2,500 participants each month, although that number counts repeat participants.

Its website includes a calendar of planned events. In January, those included board games, video games and trips to Bambino’s Italian Café, Bed Bath and Beyond and Walmart.

"We've also paired up with Services for Independent Living," said Sarah Bowman, recreational specialist at Columbia Parks and Recreation. "They provide transportation from the tower to the grocery store and back."

Bowman said the program also collaborates with an MU class that introduces students to recreation for people with disabilities.

At least 100 students enrolled in the class volunteer for two-and-a-half hours each semester.

"They help tremendously," Bowman said. "They help out in ceramics. They play games with people; it’s a lot of interaction."

Spence said he would stop fundraising now that the program is fully funded and counts several community partnerships.

"We accomplished the goal of keeping this program a priority for the city," he said.

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