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UNSUNG HEROES: SUSAN MILES AND BETTY HUBER HARTER[Part_1]

http://ozarkspub.vo.llnwd.net/o37/KSMU/audio/mp3/unsunghero_3126.mp3

7:30 AM: Susan Miles is the Director of Champion Athletes of the Ozarks, an organization that caters to handicapped children and adults by offering not only competitive sports opportunities but also vitally important training in life skills.

4:30 PM: Betty Harter has been cooking for the people of Billings for most of her 80 years. The community loves her as much as she loves cooking for them. Mike Smith has her story.

RANDY: Susan Miles is the Director of Champion Athletes of the Ozarks, an organization that provides athletic opportunities and training in life skills to handicapped children and adults. It's something she's been passionate about since she was a child. Born in New York City, Susan and her family moved to Crane, Missouri in 1971, when she was a high school sophomore. The reason? Her mom, the late Dr. Minrose Quinn, had just accepted a position in what was then the Speech and Theatre Department at Missouri State University. Susan attended Missouri State herself--but NOT in her mother's department!

SUSAN: My field of major is Special Education, so I was not in the Speech and Theatre Department--we never crossed paths. I was in the Special Ed department. It has been a field of interest of mine since I've been a small child.

RANDY: How did that motivation develop?

SUSAN: There was an individual, when I was a very small child, that I remember in New York. A group of boys was picking on an individual that was disabled. I was probably only five or six years old, and at that time I can remember promising myself I would never, ever, let that happen. But I'm not quite sure how I got to the field--it's just an absolutely wonderful field.

RANDY: In the 1970s Susan taught for four years at the Developmental Center of the Ozarks--what was then the "Cerebral Palsy Center."

SUSAN: So I've had the opportunity truly to grow up with a lot of our athletes. Some of those guys were two (years old) when I started teaching. And I taught there for four years, stayed very, very involved in the field and with the individuals. I was also employed by Special Olympics. That turned out to be a program that was not going the direction that it really needed to go to take care of the WHOLE individual.

RANDY: That's when Susan Miles helped found Champion Athletes of the Ozarks.

SUSAN: We met with all of our parents and our athletes to decide exactly how they wanted their program structured. A lot of our athletes obviously are very interested in sports. They don't necessarily qualify at school: grades may be an issue, coordination, balance, illness, seizures. We could have a lot of issues that keep our athletes from qualifying for school sports. But sports is a very wonderful, important part of an individual's life where you can teach a lot of rules, you can teach a lot of self-respect, you can teach a lot of self-confidence, a lot of social skills... belonging. So you can teach a tremendous amount through sports.

RANDY: And it's children and adults both.

SUSAN: Yes. We have some individuals that are four and five years old that are participating, and we have some individuals that are in their 70s that are participating. We work with almost every disability: cerebral palsy, autism, Down Syndrome.

RANDY: And it's almost--except for you!--almost all-volunteer. (Susan laughs) You are the staff!

SUSAN: Yes, I am the staff. We have a tremendous, wonderful support group of volunteers--parents, quite a few MSU students. We are volunteer-driven.

RANDY: Ruth Tickner, who suggested Susan Miles for our "Unsung Heroes" series, said that for Susan, Champion Athletes isn't just a job... it's her life.

SUSAN: Well, I guess it probably truly IS my life. I am certainly not at all an "unsung hero." I get to work every day with the heroes--our athletes are the heroes! They teach me every single day. I wouldn't miss any of it. Would I like to go home sometimes and not be involved? Probably... but then I think about, "I might miss Cory shooting a basket; I might miss Claire; I might miss Alex." I'm just not going to miss it. I am very much hands-on. Again, it's very important to me that I get to see our athletes' successes, whether it's reading class, or storm classes, or sports.

RANDY: Because it's not just sports--you do a lot of things with life skills.

SUSAN: Right. That was a big concern for our parents: the sports are wonderful, but what about the WHOLE individual? What if my child can't read? How do I find a job for my child? How do I begin to find job skills for my child? What do I do when my child needs to learn to be able to take care of themselves and be independent through life?

RANDY: Even things like storm preparedness.

SUSAN: Right.

RANDY: How many hours a week do you spend, typically--not only in the office and trying to raise funds and administer the organization, but attending the activities and cheering the athletes on and assisting with transportation...?

SUSAN: Well, it's probably an amount of hours that I don't really want to count! (Randy laughs) I would say, if I had to guess, it's upwards of 90. You leave the house at 8 in the morning, you get home at 10 at night... but it's wonderful.

RANDY: I know Ruth said that she considers you to be a heroine to those families that you work with.

SUSAN: (chuckles and takes a deep breath) I don't know about that. I think I'm pretty honored that those families let me in, and those families let me share their children, and let me share some of those experiences. So I don't think I'm the heroine. I think the families are the ones that are wonderful.

Links:

  • Champion Athletes of the Ozarks