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 Riverview Elementary, from Murfreesboro in Hertford County. Cheryl Helms, Health & PE Teacher, highlights one of her school’s Project UNIFY Buddy Club activities.
“The Riverbarkers supplement the school’s literacy program using a reading team consisting of an AKC (American Kennel Club) Canine Good Citizen/Therapy Dog International certified dog and qualified handler to strengthen and motivate reading skills while boosting confidence and developing empathy towards animals. Our goals are to motivate children to want to read by providing a safe, non-judgmental reading environment utilizing a 1:1 ratio of one reading team with one child, and fostering a warm feeling of success, and encouraging confidence in reading skills/fluency. The Riverbarkers are assisted by students from Project UNIFY. A group under the Special Olympics umbrella, which focuses on the inclusion of students with and without intellectual disabilities.
This is our second year of the Riverbarkers. Last year we had 13 children on our list to work with and this year there are 30. The children have to have a signed permission slip to read to the dogs.
We have 5 dogs that love coming to school, Emma Jean, Everest, Gracie, Zeke and Zip.”
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.