GAIN and Friendship
Friendships greatly impact our quality of life throughout our lives. Shleien et al. (1999) identifies two categories of strategies for promoting friendships in inclusive recreation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic strategies are those implemented by recreation programs to encourage positive social interactions between people with and without disabilities. The hope is that with positive interactions will come friendship. Intrinsic strategies are those implemented by recreation programs to inspire changes in the individuals that will allow them to learn and demonstrate the skills for positive social interaction. Implementing both strategies together will lead to more optimal results (Shleien et al. 1999).
Project GAIN has successfully facilitated the use of both strategies. The most important initiative of Project GAIN is to structure the program in a way that inspires the development of strong and lasting friendships through inclusive recreation experiences. While different GAIN sites may have different ways of accomplishing this inclusion, it is nonetheless implemented from the very start of the program and continues to be a priority throughout its duration. Project GAIN in Salt Lake City, Utah, for example, begins each lesson with an inclusive activity or game. This social activity serves to break down barriers and inhibitions and thus reduce any anxiety before moving on to the lesson. These activities present an opportunity for participants and mentors to work as a team. Participants will play an equal part in accomplishing the task thus being valued for their contributions. Each lesson typically ends with another social activity nested around friendly competition. This is, in essence, a soft competition (no real winners or losers) where all participants leave feeling good about themselves and their experience. Over the course of the program, the instructor creates different groups of participants and mentors to engage in the social activities and competitions. They will be moved around for each new activity, enabling them to create new friendships with all group members (D. Compton, personal communication, January 17, 2006).