Pooler martial arts program for disabled kids needs help to kick COVID

Special Kicks program has lost a majority of their funding due to impact of COVID-19

Pooler martial arts program for disabled kids needs help to kick COVID

POOLER, Ga. (WTOC) - The pandemic has taken a lot away from everyone since it first hit the U.S. back in March.

Despite a loss of funding, one local martial arts school is now hitting back. But they can’t win the fight, and continue offering classes to some special students, without your help.

For the past six years Pooler Karate has played host to a special group of students.

“He just recently tested for his second degree black belt,” said Pooler Karate owner Carson Fortner of student Austin Smith.

“She just got a stripe in jiu jitsu,” Fortner said of 12-year-old Jacqueline Bouchard.

But the truth is these students were fighters, long before they took to the mat.

“He has down syndrome, he also had heart defects at birth,” said Austin’s mother Brenda Smith.

“Jacqueline was diagnosed with microcephaly when she was five months old,” her mother Kelley Bouchard said.

“Maddox, he was born with an encephalocele. He’s basically missing a portion of his brain,” said his mother Chelly Davis.

Maddox, Jacqueline and Austin are just three of around 70 students who practice martial arts at Pooler Karate as part of their “Special Kicks” program.

A program that has helped students like Maddox beat the odds.

“Doctors didn’t think he’d survive birth but he did. Didn’t think he’d walk, but coming to karate we’ve proved them all wrong,” said Davis.

Given Austin more confidence.

“Being around typical children he used to be very shy and he used to cover his head and pretend no one can see him. Now they’re just his everyday karate classmates,” Smith said.

It showed Jacqueline, she’s stronger than she thinks.

“She also realized she could learn things to control her brothers, so that made a big difference in her training as well,” Bouchard said.

A program that has changed lives, including the life of it’s founder.

“When you see these kids and you see how happy they are, how much they’re smiling, how much they love, how much they care. I think we might be the different ones and that’s how we’re supposed to be, you know what I mean,” said Fortner.

But sadly Special Kicks may now be facing their toughest match yet.

“Especially after COVID hit, because of that, funding is being cut,” Fortner says.

Organizations they could typically rely on to support these students now unable to help.

Putting it’s future and it’s students future at risk.

“Without the program it would not be a good thing,” said Smith.

That’s why they’re now asking for your help to not only fund future students but give current student’s, like Maddox the chance to keep fighting and prove the world wrong.

“He’s going to stand up before people one day and he’s going to tell them. I have no doubt,” Davis said.

Special Kicks is aiming to help fund 50 to 60 students for an entire year of classes.

To do that they are hosting a fundraiser coming up in December.

Special Kicks fundraiser
Special Kicks fundraiser (Source: Sam Bauman)

They also have a GoFundMe page up right now you can donate by clicking here.

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