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At Capacity, Tempe Programs For Children With Disabilities Seek More Funding

As the coordinator for adapted recreation in the city of Tempe, Samantha Mason helps plan dances, organize Special Olympics events, after-school programs and summer camps for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

“We do our best to accommodate their needs so they can have all the recreational opportunities that any individuals should,” Mason said.  

For example, Camp Challenge provides six hours of activities a day for 75 students over the summer. There’s a one-to-four ratio between staff and campers.

Mason said the city’s after-school program is the only one of its kind in the city. There’s a growing wait list to get into the summer or after school programs.

Tempe estimates 2600 children with intellectual and developmental disabilities live in the city. The budget for adapted recreation programs in Tempe this year is $68,000.

“At this point we are providing the most we can provide to the population with the funding we have,” Mason said.

Tempe’s adapted recreation working group is asking city leaders to approve a $483,818 supplemental budget request to expand its programs.

The final budget is typically determined by mid-June.

Here’s a look at what’s available in a few other Valley Cities:


“We consider all our programming to be inclusive and will work with a participant if they needed a special accommodation,” said Phoenix spokesman Gregg Bach.

There are few places specially designed to accommodate people with disabilities such as Telephone Pioneers Park and the Judith Tunnell Accessibility Trail.

Phoenix partners with non-profit Daring Adventures to provide adaptive recreation programs.


Chandler offers social programs several times a month, classes for children over 12 such as Zumba and Cooking, Special Olympics competitions and a summer day camp.

About 500 people use these programs every year and some activities do have a waiting list.

“When possible, our programming grows instead of putting people on the waiting list,” said Recreation Coordinator Collette Prather in an email.

Therapeutic recreation budget is unver $100,000 and is supported in part by non-profit RAD.


Mesa offers weeks adaptive recreation programs, social activities and a summer camp.

Mesa’s largest adaptive recreation programs are bowling (with more than 300 bowlers meeting every week) and the city’s Off-Broadway Theater program increased from 7 to more than 40 participants in the last year.

Overall, 876 youth and adults with intellectual disabilities took part in recreation programs. More than 1,000 people took part in at least one social program.

“The Mesa adaptive programs typically do fill up and require a wait list; however, we can usually accommodate the wait list if reasonable,” said Mesa recreation supervisor Lane Gram in an email.

The budget for these programs for this fiscal year was $492,017.


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Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.