The following post comes from Michael H, a High School junior and Unified Partner. Michael and Jason, a Special Olympics athlete, recently competed in the Unified Sports division of the Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament.
I have had some experience in volunteering in the past. My mom has always encouraged (okay, pressured) me to do different forms of volunteering, but my experience with the Unified Partners and Special Olympics has been a wholly different experience.
I first joined the program because an email had been forwarded to all fall sports athletes looking for volunteers. At the time, I was participating in the off-season baseball camps at my high school. When my mom asked if I was interested in playing golf as a volunteer – I replied yes, because I love golf and I thought it would be a really good experience to help.
I really had no idea what to expect from the program as I had never heard of the program or spoken with anyone who had participated before. I showed up at the first practice at the golf course certain that I would not know a soul. While still in the parking lot unloading my clubs, I recognized a kid from my grade named Jason. I had recognized Jason from my freshman year Health/PE class and he often sat at the same lunch table with me and my friends, but quite honestly, we really did not know each other. I soon found out that Jason was one of the athletes looking for a partner and we started our partnership on the golf course that day.
We have partnered in multiple tournaments including the National Special Olympics Golf Tournament in Phoenix last month where we won the silver medal in our flight.
In the beginning, had anyone asked why, I would have said I was volunteering to help others. Over a year later, I can honestly say, the experience with the Unified Partners Special Olympics has ultimately helped me. The people in the program – from our director, our coach, Jason’s family and all of the athletes and volunteers I have met – have been so incredible.
Through my stories about the experience, I have recently recruited some friends to join me in the program. I have enjoyed the practices, the tournaments and the special events (like our recent Arizona Special Olympics Breakfast of Champions)…but seeing the smile on Jason’s face and knowing he too is enjoying himself is the best part of it all.
When my mom talked about how volunteering was good for the soul, I always assumed it was one of her silly attempts to get me to do something I did not really want to do. Now I can truly relate to Booker T. Washington’s famous quote: “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else”.