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He built a level playing field for people with disabilities

Monday, December 2, 2019

Growing up, Joseph Voynik saw firsthand the challenges of living with a disability in a world designed for able bodies. His mother is paralyzed from the waist down.

“My mom has shown me that patience and perseverance can conquer almost any challenge. I also noticed that people with disabilities often do not have the same opportunities as the able-bodied,” Joseph explained.

In 2014, a commercial during a baseball game showed him an opportunity. The screen lit up with smiling faces, laughing children and all the fun that comes with playing a baseball game with friends. What made it special was that those children had disabilities. Joseph had never seen an accessible baseball field before. And as soon as he learned about Miracle League fields, he reached out to volunteer. Unfortunately, there were no accessible fields in the entire state of Mississippi.

Making a miracle

Joseph was always disappointed in the inequity for people with disabilities, and this was his chance to create a level playing field. Joseph turned to his seventh-grade leadership group, and they created the Miracle Mile fundraiser race. That mile went a long way, raising $10,000 in seed money. But this was only the beginning of Joseph’s journey.

Joseph’s work pushed him beyond his comfort zone. He established the Miracle League of Central Mississippi, working alongside prominent figures throughout the state. He met with mayors and city councils in order to gain support and secure a location.

“It was important to me that the field be inclusive and located alongside standard baseball fields,” Joseph said. “I wanted the Miracle League players to experience the same game-day excitement as all of the other athletes.”

If you build it

After four years and more than $600,000 raised, Joseph could say he built a Miracle League field. On April 20, 2018, Joseph witnessed the smiles and laughter of players on opening day. Six teams competed in the inaugural season, and many more volunteers helped. Children who had never played baseball were rounding the bases, exhilarated as they made it to home plate. Volunteer buddies bonded with their new teammates. And parents cheered for their new favorite athletes.

Joseph described that day, “For many, this was their first opportunity to play a community sport and for their families to cheer them on from the stands.”