A lot of the work that Variety – the Children’s Charity of Buffalo & Western New York does in the community, centers around the mission of making experiences more accessible to children who are sick, disabled or disadvantaged.  By working with Excalibur Leisure Skills Center, Inc., Variety is able to provide the benefits of living near one of the Great Lakes to children who normally would not have access!

Excalibur Leisure Skills Center Inc. is a private non-profit all volunteer organization dedicated to providing adaptive boating and fishing opportunities for WNY residents who are developmentally challenged and disadvantaged.  Their goal is to provide access to Lake Erie and offer developmental, therapeutic and recreational opportunities.

Developed in 1982 by James and Catherine Catalano and Angie L. Licata, Excalibur was the first non-profit in New York State (one of the few in North America) to provide waterfront accessibility for those with developmental challenges and disadvantaged.  In 1988, Excalibur received the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service Award from Governor Mario Cuomo.  The Excalibur Leisure Skills Center Program Site is located at the Safe Harbor Marina at the Buffalo Harbor State Park and the Wheelchair Access Dock is behind Charlie’s Boatyard restaurant.

Since 1985, many hard-working Western New York volunteers have contributed considerable time, effort and services to the Excalibur Program.  The now-retired Admiral P. R. Lucci, the first of a speciality modified wheelchair accessible boat and the decommissioned Francis J. Pordum, were  the first boats utilized by Excalibur on both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.  Today, the Richard A. Smith carries on Excalibur’s mission.  With their mission focus on accessibility, Excalibur as an organization believes that accessibility offers those with disabilities and challenges the opportunity to participate with grace and dignity in everyday activities.  With everyone in the organization a volunteer, from captains and crew to booth workers at events, Excalibur is always looking for extra hands on deck.

The Richard A. Smith offers the opportunity for its passengers to experience either a boating or fishing excursion.  With a maximum capacity of 21 people ( including the boat’s Captain, two Excalibur volunteers and 18 passengers) the boat is fully wheelchair accessible for up to 6 attendees in wheelchairs.  The Richard A. Smith was custom designed and built as a commercial, US Coast Guard certified, wheelchair accessible passenger vessel in the 30’ T-boat category.  Special adaptive design features of this boat include a widened and reinforced companion way, reinforced transom, raised deck, front and rear wheelchair lifts, L-trac hold down system, a cabin model with full cockpit camper top, custom foldaway cockpit seating custom built boarding ramp and steps and a full array of electronic instrumentation and safety equipment. 

Since the Excalibur Program started nearly 4 decades ago, it has provided services to over 69,000 children and adults.  Funding from the Variety Club will helps children with developmental challenges take part in the program and fund operational expenses that keep the Richard A. Smith afloat.