Like many 16-year-olds, David Farrar thinks about getting his driver’s license. He has a growing interest in girls, loves playing sports and enjoys a few of his classes at school.

But unlike most teens, Farrar has a disability that affects his brain and makes it difficult for him to learn and interact with other kids his age. According to his parents, he didn’t speak until he was 6 years old.

Enter the West Suburban Special Recreation Association.

For the last six or seven years, Farrar has been playing softball and basketball, and gone bowling and golfing with children and adults in the area who have similar limitations. His confidence and his sociability-not to mention his jump shot-have all improved.

During a Thanksgiving-themed fundraiser at the middle school on Beloit, Farrar joined dozens of other recreation participants to shoot hoops and raise money for the organization. Winners took home a gift card good for one turkey.

“I just get a bang out of the smiles on their faces,” Farrar’s father, Bill, said.

Bill Farrar and his wife, Connie, made the trek from Elmwood Park for the Nov. 21 fundraiser for two reasons: their son was looking forward to seeing his friends, and the recreation association deserves all the support it can get, they said.

“They don’t get enough credit,” Bill Farrar said of the regional non-profit. “They really impact peoples’ lives. They really do.”

Melissa Griffith is a recreation specialist for West Suburban Special Recreation Association. Friday night’s event was held specifically to raise money for the group’s three basketball teams and two softball teams. One of the softball squads was also recognized for its outstanding season last summer, which was good enough to qualify the group for a downstate competition for the Special Olympics.

Program participants run the gamut in both ability and age, said Griffith. The youngest member of the basketball teams is 15, the oldest is 64. The recreation association works with the hearing impaired, the autistic, the wheelchair-bound, and others. As with Farrar, the sporting events are a means to an end, said Griffith.

“What we really do is foster friendship,” she said.

Many of the individuals enrolled in the programs have been segregated from mainstream society in a variety of ways, whether in school or elsewhere. Often, specialized programs require families to send their disabled loved ones into neighboring communities where, if friendships are made it is more difficult to maintain that bond because of the distances that have to be traveled. West Suburban Special Recreation Association serves a wide swath to help defray costs, but it is an opportunity for more socialization.

Just a few hours before Friday’s shoot around, Farrar received a phone call from another participant, Chris Nakatsuka, asking if he was planning to attend.

“They’re doing what we take for granted,” Griffith said.

Farrar was looking forward to the competition and asked his parents what it was they were competing for. He was hoping the answer was money. A turkey, though, isn’t a bad prize, either. In his home economics class at school, Farrar is learning his way around the kitchen and likes to test his skills at home. The family already has a bird for the holiday, but Farrar’s father promised that the second one is his to cook.

“I said, ‘bang, we’ll stick the turkey in the oven and see what happens,'” Bill Farrar said.

Winning Club: The Bobcats, sponsored by West Suburban Special Recreation Association, were recognized Friday for a strong season. Courtesy WALT NAKATSUKA