Jumping Off A Bridge

Written by Evan Heller, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Finance Intern, Summer 2012

When I first came to D.C. to begin my internship with Special Olympics Project UNIFY, I thought this summer would be the bridge that would take me over the tumultuous waters of indecision and ground me safely on a professional track. I look back now and realize the reason I have grown so much in the past month is because I stopped thinking of this summer as a bridge; I started thinking of it as a diving board.

I decided I didn’t want to walk across the bridge and at the end have nothing more to show for it than another item on my résumé. There is a difference between making an appearance and making a difference, and I wanted to leave my mark: so I jumped. As I fell, I saw that the water—which from afar looked murky and unsafe—was actually a golden sea of opportunities. I found that there is so much this city, and especially this organization, has to offer, and all I had to do was be ready and seize every chance that came my way.

I got paired with a great mentor who constantly found ways to make sure I would leave this summer equipped with the tools I needed to succeed. He and all the other staff that I worked with were not only receptive to my ideas, but willing to help me bring them to fruition. That support spoke volumes about the trust that Special Olympics invested in my work, and I wanted to prove that their trust wasn’t wasted on me. Too many people stop at what’s expected of them; I was determined to exceed all expectations.

It wasn’t always easy—I had to work hard and at times step out of my comfort-zone. I learned that I not only had to make the necessary connections, but sometimes ask outright whether I could be involved in a project with which I was interested. I also gained a technical proficiency in several new areas. But by making these leaps, I was able to get my feet wet in many different aspects of Special Olympics, and began to develop all these opportunistic skills.

I am so grateful for the all the opportunities I had this summer. I was able to volunteer at Camp PALS, speak at the National Student Council Association conference, advocate on Capitol Hill, be a panelist on the What You Do Matters Leadership Summit student panel, attend the CRPD Senate Hearing, and observe UMass Boston’s Camp Shriver. I have been able to make so many long-lasting connections with people, as professionals and as friends, and I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.


Camp Shriver Celebrates 50 Wonderful Years!

Kristen Kolombatovich is currently the Communications Summer Intern for Special Olympics Project UNIFY. She is a junior at Hofstra University, where she is majoring in Public Relations. Kristen is originally from Hopewell, New Jersey.

“We didn’t know what to expect, we were 17.”

Last week, Special Olympics staff members had the opportunity to hear stories from some of the original Camp Shriver counselors. As Anne and Mary Hammerbacher share their experience from the first day of Camp Shriver, the visual of the buses pulling in and children stepping off starts to form.

It was not only the first day of camp, it was the first day of a movement that grew into what today is known as Special Olympics.

As the Camp Shriver counselors spoke about their experiences with the children, I realized that these stories were not much different from my own. Anne and Mary recall a small boy named Tiger who would jump off the bus every day and shout “Where are the girls!”

Listening to their stories, you got the sense that the overall goal of camp was to have fun. Of course it was important to build the abilities of the campers, but overall, the children were there to ride ponies, go swimming, shoot archery, and just enjoy the summer time with their new camp friends and counselors.

I sat listening to their stories reflecting on my own experiences as a present day Camp Shriver counselor. My first exposure to Camp Shriver and Special Olympics New Jersey was when I started volunteering at 15 years old. I struggled my first year to understand my interaction with the athletes, especially because they were twice my age and towered over me. I found myself as more of a follower within my group, learning from the head counselor and watching the tactics they would use. After two years of observing as well as participating, I decided to apply as a counselor. My nerves were eased by my previous experience and I was ready to take on the coaching position. I was now the teacher.

I was fortunate enough to serve as a camp counselor for three summers. This camp was where I found my passion for this organization. My state president spoke once to all the counselors and said, “You will have that moment, when you understand why what you are doing is so important”.

Ian was that moment.

My second year as a counselor I was approached by his father after the last day of camp. He told me how Ian had not been well and ever since he had been attending camp his father had not only seen an improvement in his athletic abilities but his health as well. With one last “thank you” and a handshake, Ian’s father left me feeling overwhelmed. I had made a difference.

Whenever I am asked where I found my passion for Special Olympics, I tell my story of Ian. It is the 50th Anniversary this summer of the beginning of Camp Shriver and bridging the gap between these two generations of counselors could not have been a better way to celebrate what Eunice Kennedy Shriver started that fateful summer in 1962.