By Kate Merrill

BOSTON (CBS) – It’s a swim class with a heartwarming mission, made possible by the Martin Richard Foundation.

The goal of the Challenger Sports program at the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester is to coach and include kids with special needs.

“I always go in the water and stuff and it’s so fun,” said Dano, an 8-year-old Challenger Sports athlete.  His dad, Dan, told us it’s great to see something good come out of something so terrible.

Challenger Sports gives children with special needs the chance to participate in organized activities. (WBZ-TV)

Challenger Sports gives children with special needs the chance to participate in organized activities. (WBZ-TV)

“Getting to, kind of,  just accept everyone as they are, it’s been pretty cool,” Dano’s father Dan said.

Dano’s mother, Kathy, said it’s great for her son to be part of a team because “he gets to participate in sports at whatever level he’s capable of.”

The kids spend time with instructors for the first half of the lesson and the second half is all play. That’s when young buddy volunteers from the neighborhood jump in and swim right alongside the Challenger athletes.

“The buddies really get a better understanding, that they’re not seeing the disability they’re seeing the ability of what they can do. So, it’s really a great feeling,” explained Diane Lescinskas, the Director of Inclusion at the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester.

“That is an amazing legacy for a little guy like Martin to have,” adds Patrick Ryan.

Martin Richard. (Photo credit: Richard family-Facebook)

Martin Richard. (Photo credit: Richard family-Facebook)

It’s Martin Richard’s legacy that motivates Patrick during his long training runs.

This will be Ryan’s third year running the Boston Marathon as a member of Team MR8.

“To me I don’t think there’s a better, a better cause to be devoting time to,” said Ryan, who was also Martin’s little league coach.

Patrick Ryan trains for the Boston Marathon as a part of Team MR8. (WBZ-TV)

Patrick Ryan trains for the Boston Marathon as a part of Team MR8. (WBZ-TV)

Ryan is now coaching other young kids through Challenger Sports. And it’s not just swimming. The money raised by the Martin Richard Foundation also pays for baseball, soccer, and basketball programs.

“You’re using that sign that he made which said ‘No more hurting people. Peace.’ and you’re putting that forward in ways that is now bringing kids into organizations where they can play sports, where they could never do it before,” said Ryan.

Fifteen year-old Henry Heffernan grew up going to the Boys and Girls Club and he’s now been a volunteer with Challenger Sports for two years.

“I feel like Martin Richard would have loved this program. And what his family’s done to carry on their name really, really makes this community shine bright,” said Heffernan.

The program is building self-confidence in the kids, and a powerful connection for families.

“They’ve created this amazing community where they’re accepted for their differences and we’re lucky to be part of it,” said Kathy Clark.

Team MR8 has raised more than $2 million since it began.

When the 91 runners cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon this year they hope to add another $500,000 to that total.

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