As an avid baseball fan, Joseph Voynik spends a lot of time watching his favorite sport on television. But when he saw a commercial for The Miracle League during a Pittsburgh Pirates game several years ago, he realized a need in his community and wanted to meet it.
The Miracle League “removes the barriers that keep children with mental and physical disabilities off the baseball field and lets them experience the joy of America’s favorite pastime.” There are over 250 Miracle League fields in the United States, and Joseph decided to add another by starting The Miracle League of Central Mississippi.
“Though there are plenty of great fields in the area,” says Joseph’s mother, Tammy Voynik, who uses a wheelchair. “There is not one handicapped-accessible field.”
Over the past three years, the 15-year-old Jackson Prep student has raised around $395,000 to build the first Miracle League field in Mississippi.
Joseph, at the time a 7th grader, presented the idea to his leadership class, and they set out to help by hosting the Miracle Mile fundraising walk. Joseph began visiting businesses, seeking out sponsorships and gaining support for his vision of a baseball field that would bridge gaps and allow kids and adults with disabilities to enjoy a beloved sport.
About $450,000 is needed to begin the reconstruction of one of the fields at Hite Wolcott Park in Ridgeland into a specially-designed Miracle League field. The field will be made of rubber cement for a flat, barrier-free surface to accommodate wheelchairs, canes, and other devices. Dugouts, bathrooms, and parking will also be accessible.
The Miracle League field will be part of a quad with three already-existing fields for able-bodied players. Joseph says it’s important that the new field feels inclusive. “I want everyone to have the same game day experience,” he says. “And the people at the other fields will see what’s happening and want to be a part of it.”
“The community has really gotten behind this,” Joseph adds. “People from all over want to get involved.” Sponsors have included Methodist Rehabilitation Center and Bank Plus, but there are many who can’t wait to participate. College students are already offering to volunteer with players.
Joseph has worked closely with the city of Ridgeland’s Recreation and Parks to make this dream a reality. A groundbreaking ceremony on Oct. 31, 2016, was held, where Joseph announced the field would be named after Zeita and Wayne Parker, a key sponsor of the Miracle League of Central Mississippi and lifelong advocates for children with special needs.
“We are hoping to start construction this summer,” Joseph says. “It should take about four months to complete.” However, it all depends on financial support in the coming months.
“I’m most excited to see the kids playing and having fun,” Joseph adds. “So many great relationships will be built between the players and the volunteers.”
Through three years of campaigning and starting a nonprofit, Joseph has grown his business skills. “I’ve learned relationships are really important,” he says. He adds that speaking in front of a crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony and talking to sponsors has gotten him out of his comfort zone. “He has a good heart,” says Tammy. “When he sets his mind to something, he really goes after it. I’ve seen this process grow his confidence.”
Though it’s taken a while for this project to develop, Tammy says once the Miracle League field is open, it won’t take long for the community to see the impact and want more. “This field will be the first of many,” she says.
You can donate for the Miracle League field at http://www.miracleleagueofcentralms.com.