Activating young people in support of Special Olympics
What is Project UNIFY?
In 2008, Special Olympics North America was awarded a grant from the US Department of Education to activate young people around the country to be agents of change in their schools, leading to the fostering of respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities by using programs and initiatives of Special Olympics. To accomplish this goal, the organization formed Project UNIFY (PU), a program that seeks to utilize existing state Special Olympics programs and initiatives in combination with schools. North Carolina has been at the forefront of Project UNIFY initiatives since that first year, and we are currently engaging more than 180 schools, both through public and private school settings throughout the state.
How we do this is by working with our elementary, middle, high schools and colleges to implement or continue the three major initiatives of Project UNIFY.
- Unified Sports or Inclusive Sports Opportunities: Sports participation involving people with and without intellectual disabilities.
- Young Athletes Program: Inclusive “sports readiness” program for two to seven year olds.
- Youth Leadership/Advocacy:
- Partner/Buddy Clubs: Newly formed clubs or an existing school club which plan/carry out activities for/with Special Olympics athletes.
- Youth Volunteers: Students volunteering with the local Special Olympics program during competition and other events.
- Peer Coaches: The students serve as coaches for their fellow students in preparing for competition/local games.
- Special Olympics Fundraisers: Youth organized fundraising events such as a “Hat Day” or participation in a scheduled Special Olympics fundraiser such as a Polar Plunge or 5K Run/Walk.
- School-wide Activities:
- Get Into It: Resources endorsed by the Department of Education for use in general education classrooms that includes dozens of free skill-based activities, games, worksheets, and more to educate, motivate and activate young people to be agents of respect, advocacy, and acceptance of all people, with and without disabilities.
- Spread the Word to End the Word: Campaign to encourage acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities and educate students about not using the R Word (Retard/Retarded) through activities such as pledge drives and other school activities.
- Youth Rally or Assembly: Supporting R-Word events, Awareness Campaigns, or the athletes competing in Special Olympics.
What’s new in PU?
Each month, we highlight one Project UNIFY (PU) school from around the state and share their success stories! This month’s school is Granite Falls Middle School, in Caldwell County. Kim Story, 6th Grade Social Studies teacher, speaks on the youth leadership and school-wide support shown for a student from a neighboring school and the impact it had not only on both schools, but the community.
“Recently, the Granite Falls Middle School baseball team advanced to the conference championship game against West Alexander. The manager of the West Alexander team is an autistic student, and he starts each game by hitting the ball off the tee and running the bases. Unfortunately, the West Alexander coach was asked by parents to not allow this young man to perform his game ritual because it was a championship game and they were worried it would be a distraction. When several Granite Falls Middle School students found out about this, they were outraged. They went to their principal and sponsors and asked if they could do something about it. They received permission to allow the young man to hit about 15 minutes before game time. They announced his name, asked him to come to home plate, and standing behind him with posters they made, the club cheered him on as he was able to hit the ball and run the bases. As he came around third base, both baseball teams and the entire stadium was on their feet cheering this young man.“
Way to go GFMS - Talk about character!!
To involve your student or school, contact A’Lisa Tello, VP of Field Services and Program Innovations, by email or at 919-719-7662, ext. 128.