Stand by Me
The wonderful snowball effect when one family spurred an effort to make some kids’ dreams come true.
Written byHeather David
From the dugout it looks typically Valley: a bunch of kids on a baseball diamond slugging it out. Look closer, though, and you’ll notice every player hits a home run. There are no strikes, and stands are filled with fans cheering for both sides.
These players are part of the Westhills Champions—a league for young people with special needs. Whether a kid has autism or Down syndrome, regardless of severity, all are welcome.
The Champions got its start when 13-year-old Kole Kodimer created a community service project in preparation for his bar mitzvah. He was inspiredby something he discovered from his mother’s past.
Lisa Kodimer, who studied special education, shared with her son that she coached a special needs baseball team in Tarzana nearly 25 years ago. Kole reignited her passion, and together they formed the Westhills Champions.
“I thought it would be exciting to help kids who normally don’t get a chance to play baseball,” the eighth-grader at Hale Charter Academy explains.
In just a year the league has grown from 18 kids and 40 volunteers to six teams and more than 100 teenage volunteers or “buddies.”
“Most teenagers want to sleep in on Sundays, but these kids are not only dedicated, they can’t get enough,” Lisa says.
One buddy, Calabasas High School senior Josh Himmelstern, forged a tight bond with 18-year-old Spencer Barnett, who was having a tough time adjusting to the team sport. For the first five weeks, Spencer spent the entire practice hiding in a tree.
“I first tried to go talk to him, but he would run away. So I decided that if he could see how much fun it was, maybe he would start playing,” Josh remembers. “We would run by him throwing the ball, and that slowly got him to come out of the tree. Now he’s the biggest personality on the field. He makes my Sunday.”
Josh Himmelstern, Spencer Barnett
“Even holding a ball is a challenge,” says Jacqueline Bisquera. Her 13-year-old daughter, Kianna, suffers from a rare neurological disorder. To prepare for her Sunday games, Kianna attends weekly practices with the Calabasas High School varsity baseball team—“buddies” she met through Champions.
“When you can integrate therapy into life, it’s so much more meaningful,” Jacqueline says.
It’s also been a life-changing experience for Kole’s mom, Lisa. She has sold her small business and formed a new company, Good Deeds in Motion (gdim.biz), aimed at mentoring teens who’d like to give back to the community.
“Kole has brought my family the most amazing gift,” she says. “It’s because of his vision he brought me back to something that I love and we love to share as a family.”