I am a Change Agent

Olivia Jones, a Special Olympics Wisconsin Youth Activation Committee member shares a great reflection on how Project UNIFY has impacted her. Without further a due, here is Olivia’s Reflection.

I didn’t know I had the power to influence the mindset of hundreds of people until Project UNIFY® came to influence my own. It was my freshman year when my social studies teacher first introduced my classmates and I to the idea of joining hands and becoming a Project UNIFY school in order to improve the school climate.

Our community was located in a small town, just outside of Madison. The vast majority of people residing there were middle class, white families; most of whose lives revolved around the sports their children were involved in rather than raising tolerance and promoting acceptance. It wasn’t hard to see that our community wasn’t exactly encouraging the proactive UNIFY point of view.

Still, my teacher pushed harder and harder for her students to jump on the Project UNIFY bandwagon, and I began to consider it. When myself and a few other students finally surrendered to her pleas and joined the movement, we realized just how little our fellow peers and even ourselves knew about the true definition of unity.

Before this club, I hadn’t had relationships with students with intellectual disabilities. I’d never known about their weekend plans, or the hobbies we shared. I found I didn’t know anything about these kids that I passed in the hallway every day.

Without Project UNIFY I might’ve never learned that my friend Aaron could draw just about any Disney character you could name, or that my friend Dylan knew the batting stats on every single Brewer’s player. Because of Project UNIFY I discovered things not only about others, but about myself too. I learned that I had the tenacity to overcome the challenges I faced. I could impact a school of students who dropped the R word just as many times as they texted the letters O M G in the middle of class. Because of Project UNIFY my peers began to think before they spoke, they began to look at disabilities with a different attitude, they began gain knowledge on differences, all the while losing the ignorance they once so greatly possessed.

It’s because of Project UNIFY that I have a place in my high school where I’m always greeted with warm hugs and smiles no matter how bad my hair looks that day, or how many math problems I failed to solve. To me, Project UNIFY has acted as the gift that continues to give. From this start-up club I can now say I’ve taken the Polar Plunge, not once, but twice. I have recently just completed my first year on the Youth Activation Committee, and have formed bonds with other students like myself who are both passionate and positive about the cause they are advocating for. Even more so, I have been presented with numerous volunteer opportunities.

On top of all of those things, I am now closing on my first internship with Special Olympics Wisconsin. Over this past summer at Headquarters, I’ve gained independence, self-worth, and other skills to last me a lifetime. Each of those achievements date back to my freshman year when I was first approached about a little known organization with tremendous possibilities. Project UNIFY has moved mountains within me, and has forced me to consider myself as change agent in the world. This organization has touched kids across the nation; it’s changed lives. Through Project UNIFY I have seen a picture of society that generations to come can be happy to live in.DSC07301

Youth Leaders Take on the White House

Kaitlyn & DanielleOn Thursday July 31st, my Special Olympics adventures took me to a new place: The White House.

President Obama and the First Lady graciously offered to host a dinner in Celebration of the Special Olympics Unified Generation, and I was beyond honored and humbled to be invited to take part in the celebration. Throughout the evening I had the opportunity to speak with amazing individuals, such as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Jordin Sparks, Jason Derulo, Michelle Kwan, Maria Shriver, constituents from ESPN and Coke, and the list goes on. We were served an immaculate meal, and the evening ended with an amazing private performance by Katy Perry.

Being invited to the White House will go down in the books as one of the most phenomenal experiences I have ever had—but it is not because I was surrounded by celebrities all night. In fact, it is not even because I got to meet the President of the United States. This night was so special and memorable for me, because I experienced it with my best friend, Danielle Liebl, by my side. Nothing, not even meeting the President, could top how blessed and fortunate I am to have a friend like her.

We are changing perceptions on what it means to live unified.

By sharing the power of our friendship with attendees at the dinner, we were sharing the power of the Unified Generation. We are breaking down barriers and creating a community where every single person feels that they have a place to belong. The Unified Generation is changing the world, and I am so honored that my best friend and I are helping to make this happen.

We ARE the Unified Generation!

 

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Learn more about the evening at the White House, or join us and become part of the Unified Generation.

UNIFIED

Written By: Morgan Lang- Calvert County, MD Unified Partner

U is for Unbelievable
N is for Necessary
I is for Impressive
F is for Fearless
I is for Incredible
E is for Extraordinary
D is for Devoted

But these words do not describe the Unified Partner that I am so honored to be
But the athletes I compete next to and what they are to me.
I started as a partner to teach them how to play sports
They taught be more about life then I could learn on the courts.
As I meet more and more athletes each and every year
My heart grows with love but also hurts with fear
Why fear you ask, cause I know that someday soon as I go off to college and get settled
That the day will come when I can’t be there to see my friends get every Bronze, Silver and Gold medals.
So as I grow into my new life and overcome more feats
You should know that the ones that helped me are all my special athletes.
You tell me thank you, and you say you admire me
But to me YOU are the ones that are so INSPIRING.
I hope that I have left a little piece of me behind
To teach more people out there how to be kind
I hope to continue to inspire more partners to start
But to you my athletes I say thank you and you will always have my heart.

Youth Voice at the Department of Education

On Tuesday March 25, Special Olympics Project UNIFY staff, along with youth leaders and educators from across the country, presented to the Department of Education on the power and growth of Project UNIFY over the last year. Special Olympics athlete and youth leader Kabir Robinson from Special Olympics Washington, joined Delaware youth leader Connor Moore and educators Erin Trzcinski and Tom Ledcke, from Delaware and Washington, respectively, to share their personal experiences with Project UNIFY.

Kabir’s impactful remarks are below. Stay tuned on the blog for more powerful experiences from Connor, Tom and Erin, or watch the entire presentation here

Introductory Remarks

20140325_094050_resized[2]Hi everyone. My name is Kabir Robinson. I live in Seattle, Washington. I am a member of the National Youth Activation Committee. I have been involved with Special Olympics for 3 to 4 years. I joined because I just want to be treated equally and be happy. I also want to be a better leader in sports.

I have a twin brother. When we were in middle school, he played soccer. He went to practices with his friends and played in games every weekend. I really wanted to play too, but I couldn’t. At school, people were always talking about how cool soccer was. Sometimes I got to play with my friends at middle school, but I wanted to play soccer for real and be on a team.

I felt lonely and left out and sad that I couldn’t play. It wasn’t fair that my brother could be on a team and I couldn’t because I wasn’t fast enough. I just wanted to be happy.

Then, when I went to Nathan Hale High School, one of the coaches for Unified soccer came to my classroom. I found out that people were having meetings about Unified soccer and I decided to go. I was so happy and excited about being on a team. I got more and more excited until we started practices, which were awesome. My team won 10 games. It is so fun to be part of a team.

All I want to say is that I was never fast enough in 7th and 8th grade. But in 9th grade, I did it!

Also, everyone in this room is awesome.

I love public speaking to people about sports for those with and without intellectual disabilities. I love to talk. It is awesome and a lot of fun to speak to people out in public. I love talking to all of you about sports and people with intellectual disabilities. It’s been a lot of fun!

 

Testimonial

Online StreamI have made a lot of friends. This means a lot to me. In school, I just want to learn new things, so I asked my teacher to sign me up for mainstream classes in Spanish and art.

I also want to be with the other sophomores, not just my special education class, because my intellectual disability doesn’t define me. I am a sophomore first. So now, at school assemblies, I sit with all the other 10th graders!

Since Project UNIFY, I am happier and more confident.

Through working with my friends on Project UNIFY, I have learned about myself. I have things to say and people want to hear them.

A leader helps people gets things done. They make you see what good ideas you have. They help you organize your ideas and make something happen. Inclusive Youth Leadership is important to me because it helps me feel included in every way. Then I can help others feel included and I care a lot about other people.

To spread inclusion around makes me happy.

Combined Talents

 An inspiring poem from Joe Olivo, Grade 11, Narragansett High School in Rhode Island

Spreading the word to end the word.
Playing together as one whole unit.
Making lifelong friends.
Feeling strong.
Cohesiveness is key.
Splendid season.
Sending a positive message.
Everyone on the same page.
Working together.
The more we play the stronger we become.
Changing attitudes and opening up minds.
The future looks bright.
Spreading the word to end the word.

And check out a great Spread the Word to End the Word video from the 2014 Narragansett High School Unified Sports Basketball Team.

A Life Changing Moment

During the Special Olympics Montana Fall Leadership Conference, Glen shared his story with a Special Olympics Montana board member about how Special Olympics saved his life. He wrote his story down so that we could share it with others. Below is a summary of what he shared.

Glen’s Story:

I am Private First Class Matthew Robocker (also known as Glen) of the 495th CSSB stationed in Libby, MT. I live in the small town of Eureka. Even if you don’t know me, I still need to say thank you…you saved my life.

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I was going into the seventh grate and I got into a fight with my best friend. I secluded myself from my first childhood friends and slowly started hanging out with other people. I met a group of kids that I thought were cool and I wanted to fit in with them. It went from doing cool things, like skateboarding outside at school, to not such cool things like, partying and making bad choices. I escalated in my partying to the point that I had a real problem.

To make a long story short, I go in trouble with the law. These “friends” blamed me for some things that I did not do, but could not prove that I didn’t because I was there. Just to give you an idea of the severity of the trouble, I ended up being convicted of 3 felonies and 4 misdemeanors for theft. I was required to do 240 community service hours and serve 2 years of probation. I was still a young teenager!

I went through this all and eventually gained back my original set of friends who I hold dear to this day. I had all but 20 hours of my community service done and nearly all of my probation completed. My probation officer met with me on a Monday and said if I can keep my grades up and can get my hours all taken care of, he would take me off probation and I wouldn’t have to see him again. The very next day I had a conversation with Greg Grove (SOMT Local Program Coordinator). He asked me if I would could and would accompany him along with another student and two athletes to Bozeman, MT to a Project UNIFY Youth Summit. I told him I would do it if he signed a paper saying that I did the remainder of my community service hours. He agreed and we were off.

This was my freshman year of school. We loaded up early in the morning and headed off to Bozeman. I  thought I would never have anything to do with Special Olympics again after that weekend, but I had such a great time my world was changed. We got back home and I was off probation and I had stopped partying like I was before. Greg continued to give me more information about being a Unified partner, and at first I was hesitant. But when I met some athletes, I was saved. I saw that not a single athlete had a frown on their faces and they were all so happy. They were even happy to see me, for what reason, I don’t know. The thought came into my head at that moment that I would always have something to do with Special Olympics.

I have been involved for almost 4 years now. Greg is one of my best friends; he helped me find what I wanted to do in life. On June 11, 2013, I enlisted in the Army National Guard. While I have only been enlisted for a short time, I have “ranked up” twice. Also, because of the moral support of Mr. Grove, I have a beautiful fiancé, wonderful life, and the best friends and family I could have ever asked for. Most importantly I have my friends from Special Olympics Montana! Thank you so much for getting me back on the right path, I truly believe with all my heart if it wasn’t for you and your help, I would be stuck in the same place I was when I started sharing this story with you.

I am so thankful, and look forward to our journeys together in the future!

Following Inclusive Youth Leadership: Post Twitter Chat Reflection

Jamie Behymer, a co-chair of the Inclusive Youth Leadership Sub-Committee with the National YAC, shares her reflections about a recent #ProjectUNIFY Twitter Chat.

Phones in hand, Twitter App open, and ideas ready for sharing, the Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee met on Monday, January 13 to host the first-ever Special Olympics Project UNIFY® Twitter Chat!

 A Few Thoughts About the Twitter Chat

“Before Twitter I was on a lonely road; the Twitter Chat is the intersection that brings all the different cars, different people, different ideas flowing together,” James Kweon, an Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee co-chair, said.

“This was something monumental,” Clement Coulston, the Inclusive Youth Leadership mentor, said. “Youth are the leaders of today and through collaboration and reflection, we were able to foster an idea of a new social norm, inclusion.”

Screen Shot 2014-01-25 at 8.57.42 PMMembers of the Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee educated participants about Inclusive Youth Leadership and the Guidebook that supports it’s development, but also learned how social media can impact continued collaboration. With the sub-committee tweeting out questions using #ProjectUNIFY, conversations were easily accessible for participants and continue to encourage discussions with people from around the world.

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Twitter Chats are utilized to promote communication through stories, experiences, and resources, using 140-characters or less. “Youth” was the most prominent word throughout the evening, followed by “change” and “leader.” Whether it was an Adult Ally tweeting from Montana, or high school student in Washington, the Twitter Chat ignited ideas concerning the voice students’ have in society.

Karina Silva, an Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee member, closed the chat with:

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Her tweet, like many others, showcased the power of inclusion and acceptance, and solidified the notion that everyone can be an agent of change.

With 48 contributors and 475 tweets, the inaugural Special Olympics Project UNIFY® Twitter Chat surpassed the expectations of the Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee, I would love to hear feedback from participants in the future.  Click on the Storify below to review highlights from the chat and follow us @SOProjectUNIFY!

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