Kole Kodimer had been searching for a community service project that coincided with his bar mitzvah. He had previously turned away every idea his mother gave.
A blood drive?
How about a one-day event to raise money for the sick?
The way his mother Lisa (Schachtel) Kodimer told it, her son woke up one morning and approached her, a light bulb flickering above his head. He wanted to start a baseball league for children with special needs. This idea would combine his love of baseball with a passion his mother pursued while she was a student at California State University, Northridge — helping out the special needs community.
Lisa Kodimer ’94 (Child Development) immediately thought the idea was too grandiose, and she worried that her 12-year-old son was biting off more than he could chew.
Three years later, the Champions League at West Hills PONY Baseball is a thriving organization that has inspired many to volunteer and, more importantly, has served as a social outlet and physical activity for more than 50 children with special needs.
It also has been an enterprise and passion for the Kodimer family. The two children, brothers Kole and Kamden, dad Kory and Lisa run the volunteer organization together. It became so popular and successful that Lisa closed her gift shop and returned to her roots, starting Good Deeds In Motion, a for-profit company that helps nonprofits by designing and configuring customized projects to foster creative ways to give back.
Lisa credits Kole, now 15, for creating the spark.
“Kole really created an amazing opportunity for a community that had a ripple effect,” Lisa said. “My husband and I drive the bus.”
That’s selling herself short, as she has been the organizer, promoter and coach. Her husband has been active as a coach as well.
“It becomes our favorite thing on the weekends,” Lisa said. “I hear my kids talk about [their experiences]. They’ll say, ‘She threw a baseball for the first time.’ Or, ‘She said ‘baseball,’ and she never talks.’”
It has become a favorite for others as well. West Hills Champions has a Facebook page with hundreds of images of joy and inspiration, showing people helping people. And the comments attached to some of these photos explain just how important this league has been.
“… thank you for making the West Hills Champions happen. It brings so much happiness to our family, and so many others.”
“Have to say that going to the weekly Champions games is the absolute best part of the week for our entire family. Thank you to the Kodimer family for all they do to make the Champions experience amazing for the players and the buddies!”
“You are changing the lives of all these kids!”
Kole said his mother was a big influence on his drive to start the league. She previously had coached for a San Fernando Valley Little League Challengers Division, which is the same concept as Kole’s Champions League.
“When I was younger, she’d tell me about special needs kids and how cool it would be to one day help them,” Kole said. “She told me to include them in everything. She did it 20 years ago when she was in high school and college. She helped special needs kids play baseball.
“Because of my mom and what she used to do, and how she introduced us to special needs children, it really influenced me and made me feel I need to help these kids,” he continued.
While Lisa was a student at CSUN, she also volunteered for Best Buddies International, an organization dedicated to creating one-on-one friendship, mentorship and leadership opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Lisa said her education at CSUN expanded her passion for helping this community.
“I was on the route to focus on special education, but it was the classes I was able to take that supported my passion,” Lisa said. “I took American Sign Language. I met so many deaf students. I surrounded myself with them often, and that took me on to working and volunteering for a preschool on campus. I remember taking my sign language and doing a project singing Row, Row Your Boat (with the preschoolers).”
After graduation, Lisa got married, and volunteer work took a back seat to being a wife and mother — that is, until her son lit a spark.
“She was a huge help,” Kole said. “Because I was only 12 at the time, I couldn’t do much except for telling people what needed to be done.”
Lisa approached the West Hills PONY League president, who thought it was a great idea. She contacted people through social media and reached out to a local newspaper to spread the word. The early problem was that she had 40 volunteers and two Champions League players. She had to create a waiting list for volunteers.
Eventually, more kids with special needs joined the program. Calabasas High School’s baseball program got involved, with Calabasas players and coaches helping coach the Champions.
Lisa is a community leader. Kole, just a teenager, is also a leader. But he doesn’t like to look at it that way.
“To be honest, these special needs kids are the heroes,” he said. “They changed the lives of the volunteers, and my family as well.”