Dec 22, 2021
Whenever the residents of Noah’s Landing are around Florida Southern College women’s basketball coach Betsy Harris it must feel like Christmas.
From the smiles and hugs Harris receives from the developmentally disabled residents that make up the Noah’s Ark of Central Florida community in Lakeland, the gift of time that Harris devotes to them is the best gift of all.
And it’s pretty much year round.
“They absolutely adore and love Betsy and Megan (Dzikas),” Noah’s Ark co-founder Mickie Brown said. “Betsy has a special bond with anybody she comes into contact with. She has a special heart for people with disabilities. You can’t make that happen, it’s either there or it’s not. She gets our population, and she loves them unconditionally. Betsy could lose a game and come out here and forget about the loss.”
There are about 20-25 residents that have taken to Harris and the women’s basketball team. They have been to multiple games over the years, have sung the National Anthem before games and have competed in halftime contests against other residents.
The pandemic made it difficult for Harris and the team to interact with the residents, so Harris went old school.
Harris had her players and the residents begin a pen pal program. When a batch of letters was ready, Harris would drive over once a week on Sundays to deliver her players’ letters and pick up the letters from the residents that participated.
“One of our residents (Mitchell) went apartment to apartment to make sure he collected all the letters so he could drop them off to Betsy in the parking lot,” Brown said. “A lot of our residents went home to live with their parents, but there were still a very large part of people that wanted to be a part of it. It was their saving grace.
“I can’t give enough kudos to Betsy and the ladies. Not everybody gets, or understands our population. There has never been a time where they felt like they were discriminated. They’ve been treated as equals, which does great for our residents’ self-esteem, to be accepted for who they are.”
Harris has been connected with Noah’s Ark of Central Florida since she took the reins of the Mocs’ women’s program in 2014.
From that point on, Harris has become an integral part of the lives of those 20-25 residents who have shown as much admiration for her as she has for them.
“I’ve always enjoyed helping people,” said Harris, who also is heavily involved in helping senior citizens as well. “I had never had a chance to work with a group like this. It’s very fulfilling. They thank us for all that we do for them, but in reality they do so much for us. I’ve developed such good relationships with them. I feel like I’ve known them forever. We just have a good time spending time with one another. I always let them know how important they are to me and the girls.”
Harris explained that it isn’t just her connection with those residents, but it’s also something that her team gets a lot out of as well.
“The girls have a really good time with them,” Harris said. “You can’t help but have a good time with them. They’re fun-loving people. They love being around the girls and coming to the basketball games. It’s always cool to watch them interact with them. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter to them. They’re going to love the girls either way.”
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