Pius XI High School in Milwaukee hosts an adapted Open Gym offered by The Ability Center, which has a goal of transforming greater Milwaukee into the most universally inclusive recreation community in the country. (Submitted photos)

A Milwaukee Catholic high school and a nonprofit dedicated to fostering recreational opportunities for disabled people have teamed up to offer a one-of-a-kind opportunity for indoor fun.

The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops notes in its pastoral statement on persons with disabilities: “The same Jesus who heard the cry for recognition from the disabled of Judea and Samaria two thousand years ago calls us, his followers, to embrace our responsibility to our own disabled brothers and sisters in the United States.”

One of these often-unmet needs is the opportunity for recreation and community. According to The Ability Center, a nonprofit that aims “to transform greater Milwaukee into the most universally inclusive recreation community in the country,” 54 percent of people with disabilities engage in no leisure-time physical activity. The lack of leisure activity contributes to other disheartening statistics: people with disabilities report feelings of isolation at three times the rate of their nondisabled peers, and the obesity rates for individuals with disabilities are also higher: 38 percent for children and 57 percent for adults.

Answering this call, Pius XI High School has partnered with The Ability Center to provide an opportunity for inclusion to its community and the community at large, including an adaptive Open Gym.

The next Open Gym event is Monday, April 24, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. All are welcome and encouraged to take part for activities and games, from wheelchair basketball to sitting volleyball, and goal ball to tennis. The Ability Center adapts all kinds of sports and games.

“Inclusion is one of our five core values here at Pius XI, and we see a strong synergy between the missions of our two organizations,” said Pius President Jack Herbert. “We are proud to partner with Damian (Buchman, Ability Center founder) and his team as they continue their impactful work in our community, fostering understanding and making Milwaukee more accessible.”

The partnership between Pius XI and TAC started in 2019 when TAC board member Deb Schiel and TAC supporter MaryBeth Budisch arranged a meeting with Herbert. Schiel’s husband and Budisch are Pius alumni.

Since that meeting, a mutually beneficial relationship has grown between The Ability Center and Pius. While Pius has welcomed TAC into their space, TAC has been a community partner for the Popes’ Invitational Basketball Tournament, led school assemblies and has hosted the Open Gym program.

The Open Gym program is genuinely open — to the community at large.

“Open Gym allows everyone the chance to wear a ‘different pair of shoes,’ and helps participants understand that regardless of ability, everybody is capable. Inviting the able-bodied to play in a new environment allows everyone a chance to get in the game,” said Ability Center founder Damian Buchman.

Stephanie S., the mother of an Open Gym participant, sees the value of this opportunity: “When my daughter got to Open Gym, she immediately felt at home. There was encouragement, positivity and a way to having the feeling of normal.”