Jenny Serra eyed her bowling ball at Allen’s Crosley Lanes, then looked down the lane at the remaining pins. Her first roll was good. She had just a couple more to take down.
Then, she bowled her second ball — bull’s-eye! A spare.
From his seat Clinton Cotton, equal parts spectator, cheerleader and fellow bowler, shot both arms into the air.
“Go Jennifer!” he shouted. “Good job to Jennifer tonight! Good job to Jennifer! To! Night!”
Technically, it was 4 p.m. But semantics are hardly the point, especially when the words themselves are packed with that much enthusiasm.
On about a dozen lanes at the bowling alley on Wednesday, teams of three or four people with special needs bowled and cheered for each other. Many of them have been participants in the Vancouver Parks and Recreation bowling program for more than a decade, starting back when the twice-weekly sessions were held at Timber Lanes.
“These guys look forward to this all week,” said Bobbi Ferenchak, who attended the afternoon bowling program with her son, 33-year-old Christopher. “We’ve followed it around for a while.”
But Vancouver Parks and Recreation is rolling back some of its programs for people with special needs. The bowling program will be capped at 25 participants for the rest of the summer. Another Access to Recreation program, group excursions held on Mondays and Fridays, are canceled.
Melody Burton, marketing manager at Vancouver Parks and Recreation, said the cuts were due to personnel changes at the Access to Recreation office.
“We’re in the process of some staff turnover in that position,” Burton said. “Because of those challenges, we did have to reduce the number of some of these options for the summer.”
If all goes according to plan, bowling will be back to capacity in the fall, Burton said. But the day trips have been suspended indefinitely.
Access to recreation
Vancouver Parks and Recreation has a catalog of activities for people with disabilities. The current summer session also includes fitness classes, swimming, social nights, cooking, arts and crafts and pottery.
Many of the activities are wildly popular, with the same people and families returning year after year.
“It’s a unique program in Clark County, especially for adults,” Burton said. “This is a program that is our priority for our department, so certainly we want to make sure we’re getting as many opportunities up and running as soon as we can.”
But Clinton’s father, Jacques Cotton, worries that shrinking the number of programs, even temporarily, might reduce Clinton’s chances to socialize with peers.
And as his son’s advocate, he’s wary about any change that could potentially undermine Clinton’s opportunities to thrive.
“As always, my orientation is toward my son and his relationship to things, and his rights in the community,” Jacques Cotton said. “My question about things in general would be, what’s happening to other Parks and Recreation programs for the general population? Are those being decreased also?”
There’s a larger restructuring underway at the Access to Recreation branch of the Parks and Recreation department, Burton said.
The branch’s longtime leader left the position in June. Now, Burton said, recreation staff are evaluating Access to Recreation’s individual programs to see which are well-attended and successful, looking for ways to make improvements.
“We’ve had folks in those positions for a long time,” Burton said. “We’re having a new wave of staffing coming in, so we’re looking at the chance to refresh our programs in total.”
Some parents and caretakers at Wednesday’s bowling session wondered how participants might take to new faces at the events, after years and years building relationships with the same recreation staff.
They also worry about how capping attendance might exclude people who would otherwise participate.
“How do you pick which people are going to do it?” wondered Amy Johnson, who’s been watching her daughter, Kali, bowl once a week for the last three years.
Burton said that bowling, like all Parks and Recreation programs, will continue to be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. If a certain program is full, people can also sign up on the wait list.
Participants in Access to Recreation activities will receive emails updating them on any ongoing changes to the catalog, Burton said. She and the staff are also working to put together a community survey, so current and potential participants can offer feedback. She’s not sure about the timeline but said the survey would eventually be available on the city’s website.
In the meantime, she said, there are open paid and volunteer positions with the Access to Recreation department.
“We’re always accepting applications for people who want to be inclusion mentors, which are folks who work with people with disabilities,” Burton said, “if people want to make sure that there’s a lot of opportunities.”
Forming a family
Clinton Cotton, 33, is no shrinking violet — for proof, look no further than the American flag romper he wore to bowling. A onetime prom king and marching band leader, he punctuates his words with big gestures, claps and a roller coaster of inflection.
He laughs at any insinuation that he might be shy.
“Not at all!” he says, bringing his hands up to shoulder height and flipping his palms downward.
His boisterous personality is unusual among people with Fragile X syndrome, his father said.
“Clinton is an extremely sociable guy, and a big part of bowling for him is socializing with other people,” Jacques Cotton said. “He really enjoys being around other people and schmoozing with them.”
For a lot of the attendees, socializing is a big part of the draw.
The participants in Wednesday’s bowling program range widely in age and ability. Some have been coming for so long they’ve formed a sort of second family, said Jevi Diamond, who attends with her daughter, 27-year-old Ali.
They root for each other in the bowling lanes, but they’ve also leaned on one another and cheered each other on through bigger life events, too, Jevi Diamond said. And like any family, they’ve dealt with loss.
“They all treat each other so well,” Jevi Diamond said. “They never give up on each other.”