State Honoree, National Honoree
Joseph Voynik, 17, of Flowood, Mississippi, a senior at Jackson Preparatory School, worked for four years and raised more than $600,000 to construct a fully accessible baseball field so that children with disabilities could experience the joy of playing America’s national pastime. Joseph has always been aware of the obstacles faced by people with disabilities; when his mother was in high school, a car accident paralyzed her from the waist down. “I noticed that people with disabilities often do not have the same opportunities as the able-bodied,” Joseph said. While watching a major league baseball game on TV in 2014, he saw a commercial about the Miracle League. “It was the first time I had ever seen children with disabilities experience the joy and excitement of playing baseball on an accessible field,” he said. Joseph immediately wanted to get involved, but soon discovered that there was not a single fully accessible field in Mississippi for players with disabilities. So he decided he would build one.
Joseph first shared his idea with classmates at school, who helped organize a one-mile run that raised $10,000 for his cause. With his parents’ help, he established the Miracle League of Central Mississippi, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and then persuaded a neighboring town to provide a site. Over the next few years, Joseph solicited donations from businesses and foundations and promoted his project via a website and social media. After raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, he helped plan and oversee the construction of the field itself, with a rubberized surface and wheelchair-accessible dugouts. Mississippi’s first Miracle League baseball field opened on April 20, 2018, and hosted six teams in its first season. “I believe this field and league of players has opened the hearts and eyes of many in the community to see all that these disabled players can accomplish when given the opportunity,” said Joseph.