Special Olympics is poised to support the recent guidance released by the United States Department of Education (DOE) on January 23 to schools and school systems throughout the nation that receive federal aid about the requirements of providing quality sports opportunities for students with disabilities.
Special Olympics applauds President Barack Obama for creating the significant call to action which will not only create equality in schools for students with disabilities, but will all lead to more welcoming and tolerant schools across America. The specific call out to “allied or “unified” sports, is especially encouraging, as this has been a part of the Special Olympics offering for many years.
Special Olympics Unified Sports®, an inclusive sports program that combines approximately equal number of individuals with intellectual disabilities and partners without intellectual disabilities on teams for training and competition, is a significantly growing program that has direct results in building more inclusive school climates. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has supported Unified Sports® over the past year, including the development of a specific online coaches’ education course located at http://www.nfhslearn.com/.
Special Olympics can also offer the Special Olympics Project UNIFY® Program which is an obvious solution to this directive. Project UNIFY uses inclusive sports activities, youth leadership and activation to provide all students opportunities for participation and acceptance. This program, a direct result of DOE funding, has shown proven results in providing students opportunities to play sports together, enhance school climate and give students increased physical, social and educational skills.
North Carolina has been a leader among Special Olympics Project UNIFY Programs in the nation, with close to 200 public and private schools involved during the 2012-13 school year. Additionally, SONC has partnered with the NC High School Athletic Association to inform high schools about the benefits that Project UNIFY initiatives can bring to students with and with intellectual disabilities.
While the DOE guidance does not make new law, it does identify the responsibilities that schools and school systems have under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The key messages in the new guidance could be summarized as the following:
- Every school child with a disability must be evaluated as an individual relative to their sports and physical activity participation. No generalizations about the ability of a child or children who have disabilities in the same category are permissible.
- Reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities to participate in sports activities are required; the basic nature of a sport does not need to be compromised under this guidance, but where reasonable accommodations do not alter the nature of the sport, they should be made.
- School districts and schools must provide aids and services to enable students with disabilities to participate if the lack of such aids and services would not permit participation.
- Exclusion of students from sports activities is not permissible. Therefore, if children with disabilities cannot be accommodated within existing programs, alternatives need to be developed.
- Acknowledging that there are safety issues involved in youth sports, schools need to determine if adjustments in existing programs can be reasonably accomplished without creating real safety issues for other students that cannot be mitigated. This would be a rationale for creating separate sporting opportunities for youth with disabilities in such instances.
The guidance emphasizes access and participation and will rely heavily, especially in the coming months, on an intensive and comprehensive outreach and communications process. Still, the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights does have the authority to seek redress where there is evidence that the provisions of underlying law are not being implemented.
“Special Olympics has been a leader in bringing sport to people with intellectual disabilities and over the past four years has worked closely with the United States Department of Education, school districts and schools around the country through Project UNIFY to make such important opportunities available to students. With this new guidance, we stand ready to do even more”, said Shriver. “Our experience has demonstrated that the vast majority of schools just do not have the types of sport programs which children with various levels of disability need. We hope that educators will take this opportunity to commit to sports programming that will meet the social, psychological and physical need of children with disabilities.”
Note: The full guidance can be found online here. Additional information on the Special Olympics Unified Sports® program and Project UNIFY can be found here.
We are so very appreciative of all the donors, sponsors and volunteers who have made the past year a great success for Special Olympics in North Carolina. Please enjoy this holiday video featuring our athletes and highlighting our major sponsors.
For Rory, competing in his first World Games is proof of all he’s achieved through hard work and determination. When his moment in the spotlight comes, he’ll dedicate his performance to the man who inspired him.
Rory Kinane of Charlotte and Thurman Whisnant of the Hickory Police Department prepare for their journey to PyeongChang, South Korea for the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games.
People who see 16-year-old Rory Kinane at the skating rink think he’s a natural on the ice — but it didn’t start out that way. His coach remembers how Rory would try to run on the ice, like he was running a regular road race. There were slips and falls, but Rory didn’t give up. He’d practice and practice — until he got it right. Now he pushes on the ice, glides and gets some serious speed behind him. “Rory likes to go fast,” says coach Tappie Dellinger. And that’s a good thing, because that speed and dedication have gotten Rory a spot on Special Olympics’ Team USA for the upcoming World Winter Games. In a few months, he’ll be racing against athletes from all around the world in PyeongChang, South Korea. It’ll be Rory’s first Special Olympics World Games competition and he says he’s “pretty excited.”
Rory’s intellectual disability can make it hard for him to accomplish some things. He learns differently than some people; sometimes it takes him a little longer to figure things out. But Special Olympics has helped him learn discipline and find success, which has also been helping him off the ice. “The skills that he’s learned on the ice help him function in the outside world,” says Tappie, who’s been coaching Rory for 8 years. “He’s been gaining confidence, and an ability to adapt to different situations. Rory realizes the Special Olympics oath and is always ‘brave in the attempt.’ ” Rory has been doing better in his studies and recently received a “most improved” award at school, among other honors.
A Shining Light
It was Rory’s dad – a former high school hockey player — who got him involved in Special Olympics. Father and son were close hockey buddies and did everything together, including working on cars and watching NHL hockey games. Rory’s father passed away just over a year ago and the loss has hit Rory hard.
Rory’s older brother, Zach, is also a Special Olympics athlete and their mom says the program has been a real blessing during this difficult year. “They’ve been distracted in a positive way, gaining skills and self-confidence,” says their mom, Stephany Kinane. “It also keeps them busy – there’s so much going on!” Now a single parent of two children with disabilities, Stephany says Special Olympics has also been a comfort to her, knowing that Rory and Zach are among friends and doing something they love.
Rory has been especially motivated since finding out he’ll be competing at World Winter Games in PyeongChang. The teen knows he’ll be up against older and more experienced skaters, but that just makes him want to practice even more. “I know how much he misses his dad, so this has been a great way to channel his energy,” says Stephany. Rory is dedicating his performance at World Winter Games to his father.
His mom says, “Rory was inspired by his dad in so many things. But with all that Rory has been doing, all his hard work and dedication, he’s really inspiring us.”
Marty Sheets (far right) appears along with Mrs. Shriver in this portrait that hangs in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
When Marty Sheets was born in March 1953, his parents, Iris and Dave, didn’t realize their new son would someday become famous.
Iris and Dave didn’t have a chance to dream about their son being famous because soon after Marty was born they were told their newborn had Down Syndrome and wouldn’t face much of a future.
Fast forward to September 2012 —- Marty Sheets becomes one of only 10 individuals inducted into the Class of 2012 of the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame, which includes such outstanding athletes as former NFL professional football players Dino Hackett and Torry Holt, and pro basketball player Wayne Robinson.
What a difference 59 years makes…
In 1953, a suggestion made to the Sheets family for “dealing” with Marty was to put him in an institution. In other words, the family was given an option to not burden themselves with a child that would require too much care and nurturing.
Iris and Dave Sheets made their decision and Marty grew up in a loving family. His parents and two sisters were among his biggest supporters, as was a whole host of other family members, neighbors and friends. For the most part, they were a typical family. Their time was filled with the same activities that any other family experiences — work, church, school.
Then in 1968, Marty began his climb to fame.
He attended the first international Special Olympics Games, organized by a woman from a famous and respected family. But this woman was not known other than for her Kennedy family name.
In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, improvements proposed to change the poor conditions of those with intellectual disabilities began to receive significant notice. One of the leaders in the effort was this woman —- Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a younger sister of President John F. Kennedy.
Mrs. Shriver was relentless in her drive to change the world. She simply wanted to improve the negative conditions that she knew defined the lives of so many. Her motivation was her sister, who had an intellectual disability like thousands of other children and adults throughout the United States — and the world — who were in need of better health care, living conditions, and education.
Among the strategies Mrs. Shriver used was sports.
She proved from hosting sports camps at her own home that children and adults with intellectual disabilities could learn sports, and they definitely had the drive and abilities to compete like anyone else.
After those first Games in 1968, held in Chicago for 1,000 Special Olympics athletes from the United States and Canada, thousands of people returned home determined to make Special Olympics a part of their communities for even more who could benefit from the joy of sports.
An incredible number of Games have been held at the local, state, national and international levels since 1968.
And Marty Sheets has been right there all along, participating in numerous sports, amassing more than 250 medals and awards for his accomplishments as an athlete. As Dave Sheets puts it, “Marty is recognized for his abilities rather than his disability.”
The past couple of years have not been so kind to Marty. Dementias has ended his sports career and changed his life forever.
But many wonderful memories remain for him–from marching into the international Games in 1987 with Special Olympics Team North Carolina and musical super star John Denver, to sitting with President Bill Clinton and the First Lady at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1995 Special Olympics World Games at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Conn.
He is forever immortalized with the Special Olympics movement and his association with Mrs. Shriver, whom he actually met at those first Games in 1968 — but that is another story for another time. Marty is one of five individuals with an intellectual disability featured in a portrait with Mrs. Shriver which is kept at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The portrait was intended to honor only Mrs. Shriver but she would have nothing to do with such recognition, insisting others be with her in the portrait…others she felt represented success over the struggles that so many suffered for no reason other than having an intellectual disability.
Marty is one of those five in the portrait. He is one of the first six North Carolinians who attended the first international Games in 1968. He is one of the 10 of the Class of 2012 in the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame.
Fame given life through tangible awards and recognition is something we can all relate to and admire. But what should give us real pause are the personal struggles, the courageous determination and the resulting victories that have defined Marty’s life one day at a time, making him the role model that he is, and embodying the sentiment behind the awards bestowed to honor him.
This article was written by Allison Breedlove of The Arc of North Carolina.
Everyone has heard of the Special Olympics. The 43 year-old program allows nearly 4 million athletes in more than 170 countries to participate in competitive Olympic-style games. Despite its worldwide popularity, some in the disability community allege that the program promotes paternalism, negative stereotypes, and the segregation of people with I/DD in recreational settings.
In the early 1960s, Eunice Shriver, sister of President Kennedy, created the Special Olympics after she observed that many people with I/DD were treated unfairly and were not participating in recreational sports. Her sister, Rosemary, had an intellectual disability and played sports with Eunice as a child. Eunice’s dream of having recreational sports for athletes with I/DD materialized in 1962. She held a summer camp for people with IDD in her backyard and called it ‘Camp Shriver.’ The Special Olympics subsequently exploded in popularity. By 1968, the first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Chicago. In 2011, over 7,000 athletes from 170 countries participated in the Special Olympics World Summer Games. The Special Olympics has nearly 100 programs in North Carolina alone.
Promoting Self-Worth and Health of Athletes
Many Special Olympic athletes join because there are few other opportunities for people with I/DD in sports. Perhaps the Special Olympics’ biggest draw is its proven record of promoting a sense of self-worth with their athletes.
Many athletes stay involved with the Special Olympics for as long as twenty years. Meaningful, long-term relationships are sometimes hard to come by for people with I/DD. The friendly atmosphere and stability of the Special Olympics provides important social bonds between athletes, volunteers and families.
The Special Olympics takes the physical health of its competitors very seriously. As a condition of participating, each athlete must undergo physical examinations before competing. Sadly, these examinations, and other health screenings, have revealed severe but often preventable health conditions in many of its athletes, conditions also prevalent in people with I/DD worldwide.
Healthy Athletes became an official Special Olympics initiative in 1997, providing free vision, hearing and dental screening, injury prevention clinics and nutrition education to over 1.2 million Special Olympians. Statistics from their screenings reveal startling health disparities. They reveal that 39% of Special Olympians have obvious untreated tooth decay; 28.7% have missing teeth; 55.4% have gait abnormalities; 25.9% fail hearing tests; 19.6% have low bone density; and 16.4% have eye disease. People with I/DD have 40% greater risk of acquiring secondary health conditions than the general population.
Over 100,000 health care professionals have been trained by the Special Olympics to treat people with intellectual disabilities and help offset these health disparities through the Healthy Athletes initiative.
Concerns with Paternalism and Negative Stereotypes
While the Special Olympics’ health programs are very popular, not everyone is pleased with their sports program. Some former participants believe the games segregate people with I/DD. They cite the lack of participation by people with I/DD as coaches, volunteers and organizers. They claim Special Olympics perpetuates the idea that people with I/DD are incapable of performing these roles.
Keith Storey, Professor of Special Education and Program Chair at Touro University in Vallejo, CA, laments the lack of real relationships between people with and without disabilities in the Special Olympics. Storey claims coaches, volunteers and athletes rarely socialize with each other outside of the Special Olympics, perpetuating a culture of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ In Storey’s opinion, this culture fosters misplaced paternalism and negative stereotypes of people with I/DD. The piece goes on to say that volunteers are often assigned to set-up or monitor events, but spend little time interacting with the athletes unless they are assigned to be ‘huggers.’
The use of ‘huggers’ is particularly offensive to Storey. Huggers are volunteers who are assigned specifically to hug athletes such as when they cross the finish line at a track and field event. Their responsibility is to make sure the athlete has a one-person rooting section. While the Special Olympics does not promote this officially, Storey contends the practice stills remains and ‘reinforces the infantilization of adults with severe disabilities.’ He stresses athletes might learn that it is suitable to hug strangers in situations where it is not appropriate to do so.
Disability advocates are particularly concerned in how the media depicts the Special Olympics. Media accounts often describe athletes with I/DD as mentally retarded, handicapped, or suffering from a disability. In Professor Storey’s previously referenced piece, he cites news articles depicting demeaning images, sympathy or pity, as portrayed below:
But the real stars of the show were the event participants who, despite their mental handicaps, were able to inspire all who attended, as well as conjure up smiles from all the warm huggers and event contributors (The Union-Recorder [Milledgeville, GA, April 9, 2009]).
A headline in the Oakland Tribune remarked “Special Olympics’ Athletes Win Smiles: Races belong to not-so-swift, not-so-strong.”
Syracuse Herald-American said that it was difficult “deciding where the ‘special’ ends and the ‘Olympics ‘begins.”‘
An editorial in the same paper noted that Special Olympics volunteers learn that “the mentally retarded are ‘great kids.”‘
The Pittsburgh Press had a picture of a person being hugged with caption, “Special Hug.”
Growth in Popularity and Funding
Despite some negative opinions, the Special Olympics continues to grow in popularity. This popularity has translated into additional funding. President Bush signed into law the “Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act” on October 30, 2004. The bill authorized funding for the Special Olympics’ Healthy Athletes program, education, and worldwide expansion programs. In 2011, the “Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act” reauthorized federal funding for Special Olympics Programs and expanded services internationally.
The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act promotes full inclusion of people with I/DD through its grants and agreements with the Special Olympics. This Act promotes inclusive school and community activities for people with and without disabilities; offers education programs that dispel negative stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities; and promotes activities that increase the participation of people with intellectual disabilities in Special Olympics outside of the United States.
Special Olympics in North Carolina
Keith Fishburne, President/CEO of the Special Olympics in North Carolina (SONC) is proud of the programs they coordinate that integrate individuals with and without I/DD. SONC’s ‘Project Unify’ offers activities and events to students with and without I/DD that are typically a part of the Special Olympics experience. These experiences promote respect, dignity and advocacy for people with I/DD. In NC, over 120 elementary, middle and high schools, as well as three colleges, have been involved.
SONC strives to turn its athletes into leaders. Athlete Leadership Programs trains Special Olympians to become public speakers, coaches, sports officials or Athlete Council members. Others are being groomed, through their leadership programs, to increase representation by people with I/DD on SONC’s board of directors.
Fishburne stresses that ‘huggers’ have been banned by the SONC since the late 1980′s. The organization feels the use of huggers is condescending and not safe. “The chance of running into someone at the finish line is both dangerous to the athlete and to the volunteer.”
While Fishburne recognizes the games are not fully inclusive, he emphasizes that opportunities for athletes with I/DD to participate in other organized sports have not existed. “We are not an elitist program, advancing athletes to become the ‘cream of the crop.’ We celebrate the personal accomplishments of each athlete.”
July 10 would have been Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s 91st birthday.
Let’s all pause to remember her extraordinary passion and leadership, and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Camp Shriver, which began in her backyard and continues today, around the world.
The following resources provide remarkable perspectives on the beginnings of Special Olympics and Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision for a better world.
When people speak of Camp Shriver – the origin of Special Olympics, they look no farther than Eunice Kennedy Shriver. They talk of one woman’s dream that started in her own backyard. They speak of her vision that through sport, the lives of people with intellectual disabilities would be transformed and public perception would be changed.
Read more about Camp Shriver….
Senior year. Spring 1962. An announcement blares over the PA at Holy Cross Academy in Kensington, Maryland: “Any girls willing to volunteer to work at a camp for retarded (sic) children, please come to the main office.” Seventeen year-old twins Ann and Mary Hammerbacher thought, “why not?” and walked down the hall to sign up. They walked right into history. The Hammerbacher twins were among the first volunteers for “Camp Shriver,” Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s experiment in physical activity and recreation for children with intellectual disabilities that she launched in her Rockville, Maryland back yard.
Read the rest of Tim Shriver’s recent Huffington Post article about the first Camp Shriver, titled “No Limits”
SOI was recently honored to welcome a few of the original Camp Shriver counselors for a reunion at SOI headquarters. Tim Shriver joined the conversation about the life-changing differences that young people and volunteers bring to the Special Olympics movement, then and now. Watch the panel conversation
Read Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s 1962 Saturday Evening Post article that’s been called a “watershed” event in changing public attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities.
Over the past several years, Special Olympics has worked diligently with other organizations to bring awareness to the offensive use of the word retard or retarded (the R-Word) and how hurtful it is to people with intellectual disabilities.
Unfortunately, there are many instances when television programs and movies work against our efforts by using the R-Word in their scripts. In my point of view, HBO is the most recent offender when they used the R-Word on several occasions in the premiere of Veep, a new comedy series starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
To make matters worse, the show also makes fun of the official who is sent to provide sensitivity training about the use of the R-Word by the character Dreyfus is portraying.
To HBO, the creators of Veep, and Dreyfus, I say you made a huge and offensive mistake. There was nothing funny about your story line and using the R-Word as a comedy theme wasn’t appropriate.
More than 300,000 people have taken the pledge not to use the R-Word at http://www.r-word.org/. To these individuals, we thank you. We also applaud your efforts to educate others about the positive roles people with intellectual disabilities have in our communities regardless of TV and movie portrayals such as the one HBO recently aired.
Law enforcement agencies have played an important role in the mission of Special Olympics in North Carolina for more than two decades. Since the first Torch Run and fundraising efforts in 1988, more than $17.5 million has been raised for SONC by thousands of law enforcement officers and personnel representing hundreds of agencies across the state.
In January nearly 200 law enforcement officials gathered through a series of two statewide Torch Run meetings to discuss plans for 2012 and important initiatives related to their volunteer work. The 2012 NC LETR Council, led by its director, Bill Frick (retired, Chapel Hill PD), and associate directors Karen Morrow (SBI) and Thurman Whisnant (Hickory PD), has set a fundraising goal for 2012 of $1 million.
Those in law enforcement have such an important role in our communities not only to keep us safe, but also to help people who may need a boost in self esteem or a word of encouragement during tough times. Officers involved in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics take on an even greater role by helping Special Olympics impact the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.
Zach Commander, an athlete from Elizabeth City, illustrated a wonderful example of this impact when he called me one day, excited to share an experience he had with a local law enforcement officer. After he returned from the 2011 Final Leg during the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Greece, Zach was driving to work when he was pulled over. He said he was very concerned about it because he did not think he had done anything wrong. When the officer approached him, he asked Zach for his name and told him he hadn’t done anything wrong but that he recognized him and had heard about his experience in Greece. The officer proceeded to tell Zach how proud he was of him. He then did something that thrilled Zach. He asked him for his autograph!
That officer made Zach’s day by asking him for his autograph but more importantly, this story illustrates that Zach had become a positive role model in his community. The officer was really proud of Zach and used his own opportunity to let him know. The officer’s knowledge of Zach was a result of the local media coverage, which captured Zach’s story in such an uplifting way, showing how a person with an intellectual disability can achieve milestones many would never have thought possible.
So the next time you see a law enforcement officer, thank them for what they do, and if they’re involved in the Torch Run, give them your support!
Last night, Monday, Jan. 9, I was shocked to view the WLOS – TV news report about a “hazing”/bullying incident of basketball manager, Will Poolaw, at Cherokee High School. The alleged actions by the Cherokee Central School System employees against this Special Olympics NC athlete were shameful, embarrassing and downright cruel. For adults whose job it is to be role models, trusted leaders, teachers and mentors to our young people, this incident is unacceptable.
Will Poolaw is a hard working and loyal volunteer of the Cherokee High School athletic department and has been for well over 10 years. On numerous occasions he has missed Special Olympics competition opportunities for himself simply to fulfill his duties to the team. In 2010, he was honored for his service to the CHS athletic department and the following words were said about him, “His unconditional love and caring for the players and coaches of CHS have been unmatched by any other. Words that describe this young man include drive, determination, sacrifice, and an undying support of his beloved Braves.”
The fact that this outrageous incident was committed against an individual with intellectual disabilities makes it that much more offensive. People with intellectual disabilities strive to be respected and accepted within their communities every day. It’s important we take this shameful incident and learn from it. Special Olympics is working tirelessly to educate people about the talents, skills and gifts people with intellectual disabilities possess. Through a nationwide initiative called Project UNIFY, Special Olympics is encouraging students to become “agents of change” so they can make their schools a more tolerant and inclusive environment for people with intellectual disabilities. The response in North Carolina has been tremendous with more than 100 schools involved. The “Spread the Word to the End the Word” campaign has also been very instrumental in getting people to pledge not to use the hurtful word “retard(ed)” and to curb bullying. The occurrence at CHS clearly indicates much, much more work needs to be done.
I sent a letter reacting to the incident to WLOS- ABC 13 and the local newspapers in Cherokee containing the sentiments relayed in this blog post. Other media outlets around the state are beginning to pick up on this story as well, many of them have also received our reaction letter.
We hope the Cherokee Tribal Council, Cherokee Central School Board, members of the local community and the students and faculty at Cherokee High School will condemn the actions of these five Cherokee Central School System employees. Our hope is Will Poolaw can resume his much-loved role within the CHS athletic department and that Cherokee High School will participate in both the Special Olympics Project UNIFY and “Spread the Word to End the Word” initiatives in order to better cultivate a more inclusive and respectful school atmosphere.
Update: On Thursday night, Jan. 12, WLOS broadcast a report that Cherokee leaders had issued an apology to Will Poolaw and his family. The once suspended coaches and administrators involved the incident were being reinstated to their jobs, disciplined and would be mandated to undergo sensitivity training.
The Hinckas were told by doctors many years ago that neither of their daughters would ever walk nor talk but thanks in large part to Special Olympics, Molly and Charlotte are active, confident, and involved in their communities. In this heart-felt guest post Jerry shares with us how Special Olympics has also changed him, and has the power to transforms those around athletes.
My wife Kerry has always been very open and accepting of every type of person. I, on the other hand, used to be a bit apprehensive about people with intellectual disabilities. Even after I had daughters with special needs, I was still concerned about saying or doing the wrong thing and upsetting someone. I also imagined that any relationship I had through Special Olympics would be one-sided, and that I would always be the one ‘giving’ while not receiving much in return.
Boy was I wrong! Yes, I coach, I chaperone, and I organize. But in doing so, I have developed many real friendships where there is plenty of give and take. I feel deeply enriched by the relationships I have developed with athletes, coaches and volunteers.
As Special Olympics parents, Kerry and I have witnessed many transformative moments. It is so inspiring to see an athlete who formerly couldn’t walk running down a track to a cheering crowd, or an autistic child who couldn’t connect socially, develop into an unselfish teammate on the basketball court. These things happen every day in Special Olympics.
What really amazes me is how Special Olympics has the power to transform communities. This organization reaches far beyond the boundaries of training sessions and competitions; impacting neighborhoods, schools and people’s way of thinking about and seeing one another. Transformation is not reserved exclusively for the athletes, but extends to people who are encountering individuals with intellectual disabilities for the first time. Countless times as a coach, parent and volunteer, I have watched someone who is apprehensive about interacting with an athlete do a complete 180 and have the most enjoyable and uplifting volunteer experience imaginable. I know people who volunteered for a Special Olympics event in the past who are now pursuing careers as special education teachers, social workers, or in other philanthropic professions.
The story always starts in the same way – with someone wanting to help another person. By volunteering with Special Olympics, you can help an athlete with an Intellectual Disability enjoy competition. Great, right? It is great. What a wonderful thing to do. But the volunteer ends up gaining as much, or more, than the people they are helping. By helping a person participate in a simple activity that everyone can relate to – kicking a ball in a goal, racing someone down the track – we integrate people with Intellectual Disabilities into the community, and transform that community for the better.
For my daughters who have ID, participation in Special Olympics has been a remarkably eye-opening experience. Since various teammates need different levels of support, the biggest thing Molly and Charlotte have taken away from Special Olympics is the understanding that they can help others. It truly is a TEAM effort. My girls need help with certain tasks, but they are able to help others with some things. It has truly transformed the service-life of our family. Charlotte and Molly volunteer at the local food bank, at a monthly dinner that our church hosts for the community, and have developed strong bonds with residents of an Alzheimer’s Center where Kerry volunteers. Seeing our girls share their special gifts with others has provided Kerry and me with some of our proudest moments as parents.
My wife and I were told by doctors many years ago that neither of our daughters would ever walk nor talk. Thanks in large part to Special Olympics, they do that and much more today. They have competed in varsity athletics at school, are active in our church and community and, get this, are able to hold jobs. That means that they will become taxpayers; supporting communities with their dollars, as well as their time! Special Olympics is an essential piece of any community where people with special needs are allowed to thrive.
As a father of children who have competed in both high school sports and Special Olympics, I have watched costs rise dramatically in the past decade. My daughter Charlotte was a captain on the high school cross country team last year and the participation fees were astronomical. In contrast, Special Olympics provides training, support, community and participation for some of our neediest neighbors at no charge to them or to their families. Of course it is YOUR generosity and sacrifices that make this possible.
Thank you for your support!