By: Barbara Gutierrez
Each program developed by University of Miami students explores the water and animal life and provides a virtual experience during the pandemic.

For 30 years, the organization Shake-A-Leg has offered children with disabilities the opportunity to have experiences on the water providing activities in sailing and water sports on Biscayne Bay.

Its summer camp allows the attendees to explore the water and the fauna of an adjacent island off Coconut Grove. This year, because of the pandemic, the camp has changed. And the experience is being brought to the campers’ homes virtually.

Harry Horgan, Shake-A-Leg CEO, said that the organization is a place where people believe that “the water has rejuvenating qualities and that people with disabilities can live a full life when they are surrounded by people who care.”

So, this year, “the goal is to bring the magic of Biscayne Bay into kids’ homes,” Horgan said.

To fulfill that goal, campers participate remotely, taking classes on everything from weather patterns to the birds of Biscayne Bay, taught by Miami-Dade County public school teachers. To bring the outdoors into the homes, Horgan recruited a team of students from the University of Miami School of Communication to create a daily 10-minute live broadcast called “Live @ 11.”

“This is the first time they have done a broadcast for their campers,” said Ben Ezzy, who graduated in May with a degree in broadcast journalism and was hired as media director by Shake-A-Leg. “It takes a lot of work behind the scenes to put it together. But we are paving our way as we go.”

The broadcast features taped interviews with Shake-A-Leg counselors and staff members as well as short lessons, which can range from how to properly wear a mask to why one should wear closed shoes when exploring the outdoors. Camp counselors act as hosts, or “cast members” in the show, taking the students on boat trips and through nature walks. They also explore the animal life of the island.

A popular participant in the broadcast is Sally the Sailor, a full-size puppet who sits in a wheelchair. She was designed and built by Lorena Lopez, a graduate student in the School of Communication’s Interactive Media Program.

In a recent program, Sally told the audience: “I am a quadriplegic. I cannot move my arms or legs. But I still can have fun just like any other girl.” Sally then joined some camp counselors on a boat ride around the bay. In future programs, Sally and counselors will explore Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and the Port of Miami, Horgan noted.

Kim Grinfeder, associate professor in the School of Communication, and Trevor Green, a lecturer in the school, are both Shake-A-Leg advisers and recommended the students for the program.

“It says a lot about our students that they can set up a full broadcasting studio on their own and create programming like this under such difficult situations,” said Grinfeder. “We have been getting great feedback, and I am excited that the School of Communication can contribute to our community during this time.”

For Michelle Ng-Reyes, a senior who is majoring in broadcast journalism, the experience of producing a daily broadcast in the outdoors has offered many learning moments.

“For the most part, as UM students, we work inside studios and with top equipment,” she said. “This experience has taught me how to be creative. We have to find ways for the campers to experience the island.”

To that end, the team has created short segments that teach the campers about different aspects of marine life. Last week, according to Ng-Reyes, the theme was plants and animals. And one of the segments gave lessons  about the three different types of sea grass and how they form a favorable habitat for marine life.

For Danyel DeVilliers, a senior who is studying broadcast journalism, working on the television broadcast has brought him great satisfaction.

“I grew up hearing about Shake-A-Leg and knew families that sent their children here,” he said. “So, to be part of something like this, creating something to help the students, it is a way to give back to the community.”

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