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SAFE program takes root in Bethlehem

Rounding home plate to its first full year in Bethlehem, the Sports Are For Everyone, or SAFE, program is finishing the year up hitting the links at the Colonie Golf and County Club before gearing up for fall soccer.

Founded in 1992 by Jim Fitzgerald in Clifton Park, the program couples student athletes with those with disabilities through various sports throughout the year. Fitzgerald began the program after his son asked him for help on teaching his friend how play baseball.

The other child had a disability, but once given the opportunity, encouragement and practice, began to excel at the sport.

The program uses student athletes to teach certain sports, act as a mentor to others, and foster a sense of sportsmanship and friendship all around.

SAFE, open to all children with disabilities regardless of residency, has been a huge success in Clifton Park and took root in Bethlehem after it caught the eye of a town councilman, according to Bethlehem Parks and Recreation Department administrative assistant Jason Gallo.

One of the town board members Sam Messina " brought this program to our attention last year," Gallo said. "We'll be completing our first full year of our program at the end of this month."

Gallo said the program elicited enough participants in its first year to hold soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and they attempted to put together a baseball program, which is a big draw for Fitzgerald in Clifton Park, but did not have enough kids this year.

"It's still in its infancy here, but people are starting to find out about it," said Gallo. "We've got soccer this fall, and we're going to be going right at it again."

The Bethlehem SAFE program did have a great golfing opportunity to offer kids this summer. George Hettie, a parent of one of the SAFE participants contacted the Colonie Golf and Country Club in Voorheesville about holding a SAFE program for golf.

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