My Fight for Social Justice Continues

In 2008, the National Youth Activation Committee (YAC) was started by a group of young people with and without intellectual disabilities who had a passion for social change and a desire to make the world more accepting of ALL people. This summer, the founding members ended their final term on the National YAC. While we’re sad to lose their amazing leadership and dedication, we know they’ll never be far from Special Olympics… they are part of our family.   

 Founding member Samantha Huffman reflects on her experience as a National Youth Activation Committee member below.

Growing up, Special Olympics was always part of my life.  I began as a partner when I was eight years old and my involvement continued to grow as I did.  As a senior in high school, my involvement went further than I ever thought it would.  I was chosen as one of the founding members for Project UNIFY’s National Youth Activation Committee.

When I went to the first meeting in Washington, D.C., I honestly had no idea of what to expect.  I was about to meet the nation’s top youth leaders in Special Olympics.  I couldn’t help but wonder if I truly belonged with this group.  But once I arrived, all of my doubts melted away.  The people I met were not only incredible leaders, they were also extraordinary people.  We instantly formed a bond that is still present four years later.  We formed a bond that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.  Through this bond, our leadership skills, and our passion for Special Olympics, we became an unstoppable force.

Two national summits; one global summit; numerous how-to documents for youth leaders on topics such as summit, rallies, state YACs, etc.; presentations at many different youth conferences. The list goes on and on.

The work we accomplished in four short years in unbelievable.

Personally, the role I had within this has changed my life.  In a few days I will start my senior year in college.  I have an Elementary Education major and a psychology minor.  Since I was two I have wanted to be a teacher.  But with the realization of everything I have been through and accomplished with Special Olympics, my goal has changed.  I am currently in the process of applying to graduate school to get a masters in social work with a concentration of social change.  Now what can I possibly want to do with that? 😉

Whether it be with Special Olympics or another like-minded organization, one thing is certain:  I am here to stay in the disability movement.  My fight for social justice isn’t stopping with the end of my YAC term.

It is my passion.  It is my career.  It is my life.

Thank you Project UNIFY for providing me with lifelong friends and an unwavering belief in social justice.  I can’t wait to see what’s to come.

The Golden Rams Get Unified

The following post comes from National Youth Activation Committee member, Jordan Schubert. Jordan is a die-hard sports fan, a student at West Chester University and big-time supporter of Unified Sports. Below Jordan shares how he’s helping to bring Unified Sports everywhere he goes.

In 2010, I was one of the founders for Special Olympics Illinois’ first Unified Soccer program. Since I’ve left and moved to Pennsylvania, the program has grown immensely. When I arrived to West Chester, PA, there were not as many Unified Programs in Chester County or all of Pennsylvania. One of the first people I contacted to create a strong Unified Sports program was Dr. Monica Lepore. Dr. Lepore has been a kinesiology professor at West Chester University for many years and she runs many sport and recreation programs for kids with disabilities in Chester County.

Dr. Lepore’s kinesiology students support these programs as part of their graduation requirements, but she also loves having non-kinesiology students volunteer as well. When I first contacted her last summer and told her about all the stuff I’ve done with Project UNIFY, she was thrilled to have me start working with local elementary and middle schools, building Unified Programs at that level. Last year, I worked with Dr. Lepore and her students to teach younger kids the essential skills of soccer and basketball. We even got to play some Unified games together. This coming school year, we hope to start working with local schools and introduce kids to Unified Sports at an early age.

I can’t wait!

“With all you strength and all your might! Hey! Win! We Can! So here we go again! Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah, West Chester U!”

Project UNIFY is About People

The following post is from Kara Fleming, an intern with Project UNIFY who spent her summer focused on the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.

There I was, fresh out of high school, vying for an internship in Washington, D.C., as an incoming college freshmen from middle-of-nowhere, Idaho. The odds were stacked but someone must have seen something in me they liked, because before I knew it, I was an intern for Special Olympics International.

It ended up being more than I ever could’ve dreamed. The city itself was amazing, and having the job in the first place was incredible, but it wasn’t until the last day that I finally put my finger on what made this summer so amazing.

It was the people.

  • People like my bosses who took a leap of faith and believed that a young girl from Idaho could succeed working for an international organization in a huge city;
  • People like my co-workers around the office who respectfully treated me and the other interns as colleagues worthy of respect, instead of just obnoxious college kids;
  • People like the Wright Family, who poured their hearts (and musical talents) into the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign for the sake of inclusion for all;
  • People like Ben and Terrel, athletes that work in the office, who break down stereotypes and barriers by their amazing work ethic and smiles that they freely give to everyone they meet;
  • And, people like my roommates, who despite our radical differences in personality, philosophies, and geographical location, strove to include me and truly turn our group of interns into a family.

All these people truly embody the mission of Special Olympics and Project UNIFY. I learned more from watching this amazing group for two months than I ever could’ve if I’d had the same internship at another office. I learned that first and foremost, it is people like this who make Special Olympics what it is, and it is by focusing on them that the organization is able to have such an amazing impact. Every decision is made with people in mind. How can we make it a better experience for our athletes? How are we promoting respect, dignity, and inclusion? How are we creating an inclusive environment everywhere from the workplace to the playing field to the streets of cities across the world?

These people are just a sample of the people involved in the movement. There are many more like them, but these in particular are the ones who poured their time and energy into making me feel like a part of the Special Olympics staff, even if it was just for a summer. They are the reason why I will never forget this internship and why I can’t wait to continue being involved in Special Olympics.

It’s not an end, it’s a beginning!

Guest post written by Kaitlyn Smith, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Executive Management Intern during Summer 2012.

July 28th. The day six youth had been dreading for over two months was here. This was the day their lives would go back to “normal,” the day they would say goodbye to friends they had become so close with, and the day they would say goodbye to a city they had learned to love. This day was the day that the Special Olympics Project UNIFY interns would say goodbye to the most amazing summer and part their separate ways back to their own states, and back into the lives they had left behind two months ago.

Sitting in the airport on the morning of July 28th seemed so unreal to me. It felt like just yesterday I was arriving in DC with high hopes for what the summer would bring, and now I was already leaving. Sitting at my gate waiting to board, I was on my computer reminiscing over the pictures of us interns in our dorms, at the monuments, kayaking in the Potomac River, traveling to different states, working in the office, and dressing like our mentors. These amazing memories are the ones that will stick with me the rest of my life. The more pictures I flipped through, the more I realized that this internship was not just a “job” for the summer, or an internship to learn about an organization; it presented us with opportunities to learn about ourselves, grow professionally, and learn about life. This internship was life changing. 

“We are now beginning to board sections 1 and 2.”  When I came to Washington DC, I already had a sincere passion and enthusiasm for Special Olympics, but never did I imagine that my passion for the organization could grow! Being able to work in an office with staff members who not only love their jobs, but have the desire to share their skills and knowledge with others was remarkable! The life-lessons and skills we learned from each and every one of the staff members we worked with are lessons that can be put to use as we begin our individual journeys into the “real-world.”

“Sections 3 and 4 you may now board.” The moment I walked into the Special Olympics office at the beginning of the summer, I instantly felt like I was a valued member of the team. The staff did not try and give us pointless jobs to keep us busy, but rather valued our input and voice as youth! All summer we worked on projects that were meaningful, and projects that we knew would be put to use in the future. While talking with other interns in the DC area they described their internships as “getting coffee” or “filing papers,” but Special Olympics valued our time, talent and skills making our internship an amazing experience.

Sections 5 and 6.”  The first day that I arrived in DC and met all the other interns, it was clear that this group of individuals could not be more different. We had different personalities, different approaches to situations, different ideas of what was “fun,” we came from different parts of the country, and from different backgrounds. But in the end, the differences are what made the experiences so much better. Special Olympics is all about celebrating differences, and once we were able to do so, we became so much more than friends; we became an intern family.

“Section 7 and all remaining passengers please board now.” This is it. As I packed up my belongings and made my way to the door, I couldn’t help but smile through the tears. In no way was this good-bye, or an end. Interning for Special Olympics Project UNIFY was just one more chapter completed in my Special Olympics journey, and I can’t wait to see where the next chapter takes me.