Jeff Welger on the Purpose of The Welger Foundation

Jeff Welger foundation adaptive clothing
The Welger Foundation is a nonprofit organization started by the Welger family in honor of their parents, Paralympic pioneers Christa and Saul Welger. The Welger Foundation continues Christa and Saul's spirited work in supporting opportunities for physically disabled youth both in sports and in life. 
In order to learn more about the Welger Foundation, we wanted to get to know their organization directly from the source, the founder of the organization and son of Christa and Saul Welger, Jeff Welger. Below is Jeff's personal take on the Welger Foundation's history, connection-centered mission, and what he hopes young athletes gain from the connections made through the organization:
Could you give us some insight behind the story of your parents? 

My mom and dad had both met while being competitive athletes in the Paralympic space back in the late 50s. Mom was a German citizen playing for the German team and dad was an American citizen playing for the American team. They competed in these international games called the Stoke-Mandeville Games back in the late 50s. They sort of became pen pals and friends and were then reunited in 1960 at the Games that were taking place in England. Over time they became closer friends and they started seeing each other at different international competitions. After about three or four years of a long distance relationship, they decided to get married in 1962. 

Saul and Christa Welger, 1962

When my mom moved to the States with dad she continued competing, and she was able to compete for the American team, which was a wonderful thing. Shortly after the 64’ Games, they decided to start a family. My sister was born in 66', so that kind of put a bit of a stop on competing for mom. Dad continued to be involved with local wheelchair basketball organizations from an administrative level. And through that, he really remained quite active with the local community in the New York City area with new and young players. He stayed at that level of helping wheelchair basketball athletes really grow in whatever they wanted to be involved with, whether it was a more organized team or recreational team. All of that was part of my upbringing. And I knew about all of this. I knew helping athletes was a passion for them. But honestly, I never had an understanding of their impact or what they meant to that space until later in life. 

Why did you and your family choose to start the Welger Foundation? 

When mom passed in 2019, very quickly, we formed a coping mechanism. We wanted to do something to keep their memory alive. Without question, the start of the foundation was for my family and I to cope. I now understand that our reason for organizing it to help with our own coping and mourning very quickly evolved into a passion, a passion to continue their message and also a passion to expose people to adaptive sports more so than they might have been already. And even though the goal of the foundation is to help the youth and let them reap the benefits of what team sports can bring to them, the sub goal is to make sure the world knows about adaptive sports and adaptive sports history because it changes lives and it gives people purpose. We want to help extrapolate what sports did for both my mom and dad. It continued their life. It helped them make friends. It identified who they were without question. The foundation of teamwork, perseverance, and structure from team sports crossed over through all parts of their lives. And without team sports as my parents shared, when we were older and could appreciate it, they would not be the people they were. And that's the legacy of Christa and Saul that we want to keep moving forward.

What are the goals of the Welger Foundation? How do you hope to change the lives of athletes touched by the organization? 

At the moment, our goals for this year and even the next few years are definitely getting the word out. More advocacy of who we are on the local level with the hope that as we get exposure to the youth teams, that we're connecting with youth athletes on an individual level.

I want to remind people of the history of the Paralympics and adaptive sports because without understanding the history, you really can’t have as blessed the future as you want to, as with anything. I'm not saying you have to live in the past, not at all. And that's funny, I never liked history when I was a kid. I hated history class and all that. But I do respect that we have to know history, we have to own it, and we have to understand it so we can grow moving forward. 

And I want to do advocacy work where we can also speak to the youth and follow in my mom and dad's purpose of helping those that are probably just starting out in the space. When we started the foundation, what we did learn from other foundations that are similar to us is that there's a gap in the foundation space. In this space, you have athletes that have made it to the national level and they do have some notoriety and they do get some support. Great. You have those at the starting out period, they're getting support through the medical system because they're just starting out. In the middle is the gap and the gap is so now you had your ailments, you've been diagnosed, you're doing your thing, and you might get involved with the team. The very small percentage that excel go through the process of getting to sort of the high school and college level. Now they have a trajectory, but there's about ten years in the middle there or more, depending upon the age, where you can lose people because they may not see the benefit of it. They may not have the financial means to continue or youth teams may not be accessible to them. There aren’t adaptive youth sports teams all over the place. We live in a very unique situation. We're starting locally now to reach out and help those kids on an individual level, help those kids and let them know that they can have purpose. It's that kind of very local and very individualistic approach that we want to keep. 

Are there any events coming up that the Welger Foundation is organizing? 

We are in the process right now of organizing because of COVID-19. We've been cognizant of the tournaments presenting their own challenges, the organized teams have just begun doing tournaments again. So, the goal is that the Premier Welger Foundation clinic will probably happen in early 2023. It was meant to be this year, but COVID-19 just wouldn't allow that.

What we are going to be doing this summer is a Welger Foundation wheelchair basketball clinic. It's going to be in the New York City area, likely directly in the city or in a Queens-type area. We're going to have the youth come free of charge, donations will pay for everything. It's going to be a clinic of things like wheelchair skills on the basketball court, a free throw contest, a dribble contest or dribble skills, and a contest on free throws like a one pointer shot or three pointer shot. 

Former Team USA Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball Co-Captain Steve Serio with the NY Rolling Fury Team

We have a connection to the Team USA Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball Team, one of the members being a board member, Steve Serio, who was the co-captain from the past Paralympic games. He is going to be leading the charge. We're trying to get some of his teammates to be there. We have several friends from the foundation who are current college athletes playing wheelchair basketball. They've agreed to come so the youth can meet Paralympians and current college athletes so they can have something to aspire to. Our hope also is to have traditional basketball players come out and help and greet the kids. My dad had a friendship at the time, a connection with the Harlem Globetrotters. Our goal is to maybe get the Harlem Globetrotters to release a player or two to be there as well, if nothing else, for a meet and greet with the kids.

How can those interested best support the mission and goals of the Welger Foundation?

We are strictly run by donations which can be made through the official website. But if people would love to be part of the clinic, they can reach out to me. It's my email on the website, so it's very transparent. You actually do email Email me directly and let me know how you'd like to be involved.
Ultimately, what we really would love is to find one or two corporate sponsors that will be annuity sponsors for us, because we're so new, we don't even have those yet. Those sponsors that year after year could be sponsors of us. As you already can tell, our passion is about the relationship. So part of what this year is about is identifying those partners that are open and share our belief that we would love a sponsor for five years, for ten years, not just like, oh, I'll do it this year. I'm a one off and then move on because that's not what we believe in. Now, will I accept it? Of course, because I never want to turn it down. But my goal would be to find those sponsorships that could be long standing so that it fills that same goal that my parents had. They remain friends with those people all those years. We remain close to all the people we're currently supporting. I would love the sponsors to be the same way.

What do you hope for the Welger Foundation in the years to come? 

What the family wants for the moment, and when I say the moment, I mean the next 5-10 years is we want to know everyone we support. We want to stay in touch with the people we support. We want to follow them, because when you're in the youth environment you have that ability to follow them, possibly support them to stay on track. And if they go off track, just be there as an ear to listen if they want to chat, because that's what dad did and that's what mom did. Staying involved is what matters most to me. Some of our colleague organizations, which are wonderful organizations, are very large. They write a check, you get a free wheelchair. Do they know how you're doing? Do they know what you're up to? They probably don't. When you're supporting thousands of individuals, do you really know how they're all doing? We want to know how they're all doing.

To learn more about the beginnings and mission of the Welger Foundation or to send a donation, please visit the official Welger Foundation website

1 comment

  • DavidKiley

    Jeff, I knew your father as I think I told you that in a fb message. He was a Hall of Fame Chairman, one of the many ways he served the nwba. Now I’m the Chairman of The HOF.
    I want to invite you and your family and friends to watch the Induction Ceremony on Friday night April 1st 7-9pm cst from Wichita. Just go to our NWBA Hall of Fame FB page and access it and hopefully you will be amazed at what we are doing . To carry on what your father and other greats did for the NWBA while we recognize our greats.
    Questions, please contact me.
    Peace DK

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