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How Jacob's Chance is helping students with special needs thrive during pandemic

Jacob's Chance
Jacob's Chance
Jacob's Chance
Posted at 1:02 PM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 18:24:40-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- During the pandemic, we all seem to have lots of time on our hands. Binge watching may be your choice to pass the hours.

For Kate Mardigan, she has discovered her favorite new show with some memorable characters. Kate is the founder of Jacob’s Chance, a non-profit that helps children and young adults with special needs thrive in life through sports.

But spring soccer, baseball and tennis programs were cancelled due to COVID-19.

“It’s been hard. It’s been hard,” said Kate. “It is my heart and soul. It is absolutely killing me not being around the kids right now.”

So, Kate devised a plan.

Her athletes and volunteers are leading cooking, dance and art classes on Facebook Live.

“Oh definitely. Because our kids are isolated,” said Kate. “So proud of them. So proud of each one of these kids.”

Janai Santiago, who lives with Down syndrome, signed up immediately.

“It is so much fun. Like literally,” said Janai. “I love it.”

The VCU senior from Chesterfield conducts live seminars weekly reading chapters from her beloved book “The Treasure Tree.”

“Just thoroughly enjoy Janai. She is a beautiful young woman inside and out,” said Kate. “I think it’s going to give her hope and excitement.”

The 21-year-old’s confidence is blossoming.

“It has helped me overcome my fears and overcome my barriers of life,” explained Janai.

Jacqueline Santiago says her daughter and friends are surviving the quarantine thanks to Kate.

“She just amazes us because there is a drive inside of her and she wants to improve and grow and learn,” said Jacqueline. “Oh my God. It keeps them connected and they’re excited to see each other. Even though they’re not physically there.”

Classes are becoming so popular at the non-profit they may not end post-pandemic.

“I am so proud. She is an inspiration. An incredible role model for her peers,” said Kate.

For one of the stars of this new series, Janai Santiago is grateful for her chance to shine.

“Kate makes it so much fun. OMG. Kate is my girl like literally,” said Janai. “She rocks the world all of the time.”

“I wake up thinking about it. I go to bed thinking about it. Wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it,” said Kate. “I’m going to see this through all the way. Then we’ll all be together and have one big party and we’ll celebrate together. We did this. We made it through.”

For more information on Jacob’s Chance live programs, click here.

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.

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