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On a sunny day in late July 2023, dozens of people gathered at the Quemahoning Family Recreation Area for the dedication of the region’s newest asset for outdoor adventures. The Adaptive Kayak Launch allows mobility-challenged kayakers to enter and exit kayaks by themselves or with minimal assistance. The project was inspired by Shelly Kerchner, an outdoor enthusiast who wanted to kayak independently despite being paralyzed from the chest down. She organized a committee to oversee the project and contacted the Community Foundation to establish a fund to help support the entire effort.

“Having a disability is not the problem–lack of accessibility is the problem,” said Kerchner, who founded the Open Waters for All project with a goal to raise $60,000 to purchase the launcher. Dedicated fundraising efforts resulted in her achieving her goal. Funding included $7,500 from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies’ Fall 2022 Grant Round.

The Open Waters for All committee approached the Community Foundation early in the process for fundraising consulting and advice. The Fall 2022 Grant of $7,500 was the first grant they received and they were able to leverage our funding to get additional grants. Because they have the funds and momentum, they are now focusing on doing similar accessibility projects elsewhere.

Other funders were the PA Organization for Watersheds and Rivers (POWR), which received its funds from the RK Mellon Foundation, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, and the 1889 Foundation. Substantial private donations of $5,660 also supported reaching the goal.

“I’m so proud to be a part of a community that cares about people like me,” said Shelly, during her dedication remarks. “As an added plus, non-disabled people who find it challenging to get in and out of a kayak are encouraged to use the launcher. The launcher is there for everyone.”

“Funding support for the Adaptive Kayak Launcher is another example of how the Community Foundation connects donors with meaningful projects,” Foundation President Mike Kane said. “We work hard to understand what our donors envision, and we connect their interests with projects that are effective and bring our whole community together.”

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