The Blessing of Friendship

For Special Olympics athlete and National Youth Activation Committee member Jared Niemeyer, friendship is a blessing that he’ll never take for granted. Read his inspiring blog to see why. 

Friends are people who care about you, respect you, really listen to you, are thoughtful and do nice things because they want to see you smile, but most of all – you are important to them because you matter!  I have some really great friends!

As a Special Olympic athlete I have a lot of friends with intellectual or developmental disabilities.  We love doing things together; we care about what happens to each other, we encourage each other and look out for each other.  We are friends and enjoy doing things together! Special Olympics has given us the opportunity to experience a lot that some of us would never have had the chance to do.  We also play Unified Sports, so many of our teammates are also Unified partners and don’t have disabilities; we are friends and have a lot of fun working and playing together.

Going to a public school that promotes inclusive education also allows you to be friends with all students. We get to know one another well; we work and study together and enjoy being together every day. Sometimes you have to make your own way; be friendly so others learn who you are and what you can do. Usually, I make friends with others easily and am a great friend. One year during a Special Olympic area event the Varsity and Junior Varsity baseball team came to cheer me on!!!! They had made signs because they wanted to help me just like I help them as the baseball manager!! It was awesome to have my friends there cheering me on!

I graduated from high school in 2011 and work in our community.  I even moved into a place of my own with a friend of mine; Max and I graduated from high school together and planned to live independently within 2 years.  Our parents helped us figure out how we could afford living on our own, helped find a duplex in a residential neighborhood, and taught us how to manage every day. The day we moved in one of my friends from school stopped by to welcome us to the neighborhood!  He wanted to make sure we knew how to reach him if we needed anything or just wanted to talk.  He’s a great friend and we have Bible Study regularly – he graduates in May and will be going to West Point next fall. Another friend’s parents live around the corner and I can reach them anytime – his dad is a police officer and we’ve done the Torch Run together! I’ve learned so much about being a good friend because of the experiences and opportunities I’ve had.

Special Olympics isn’t just about amazing people – it’s about being all you can be and doing all you can! Opportunities teach you a lot – I even have an entire YAC (Youth Activation Committee) family because of Special Olympics Project UNIFY.

A lot of my friends don’t have disabilities; I’m so grateful that they look at me and see who I am, not just seeing that I am someone with a disability. I have value to my friends – they care and truly listen. They tell me that I’ve taught them about respect and thoughtfulness.

I’m blessed to have the friends I do!

Advertisements

Inclusion for All: Fact or Fantasy?

The following guest blog comes from Megan Clodi, a special education teacher at Mt. Vernon Township High School in Illinois. Mrs. Clodi is also the Director of Special Olympics programming at her school. 

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and get ready to imagine a scenario. The scene begins with a gymnasium built in the 1930’s filled to the brim with rich high school basketball tradition overflowing with stories of championships won, hall of famers inducted, and decades of sweat and tears from losses and wins. Now listen to the thud on the caramel wooden floor of the cheerleaders landing their tumbling stunts. The drum line thunders their tune and the band strikes up a fight song. Every seat in Changnon Gymnasium is filled with students and teachers. When will the game begin? No Varsity Basketball game will be played right now at 9am on this brisk Friday morning. Instead, this is the scene at the Mt. Vernon Township High School school-wide assembly.

This assembly is unique because it is a RALLY . . . a rally to Spread the Word to End the Word! Mt. Vernon Township High School is a culturally diverse school located in the heart of Southern Illinois and comprised of roughly 1,300 students from 13 feeder schools. The campus sprawls 11 buildings on two full city blocks. Three times a year students come together for assemblies to celebrate student involvement and success in sports and in other extra-curricular activities. This particular assembly is similar but has a unique feature, one of which . . . SILENCE. Never before has the entire student body quieted themselves during an assembly.

A parent stands at the podium and explains how ALL of her children are competitive and participate in a wide array of activities . . . including her daughter, who has an intellectual disability. She shares how her other children feel and react when their friends use the R-word (retarded) in haphazard and derogatory ways. Subsequently, the School Resource Officer describes the Polar Plunge fundraiser to benefit Special Olympics and why he supports the athletes. Two students gather their guitars and play their original acoustic song that won first place in the Mt. Vernon’s Got Talent competition to benefit Special Olympics. Next, the student Editor of the Vernois Yearbook takes the microphone to issue a call to action for his classmates to stop using the r-word. A tall-framed woman with a familiar face steps to the microphone. This face is aired into homes during the sports segment on the local news. During her speech, she details that over her years of experience competing in sports and reporting sporting events, the athletes that have emblazoned a lasting impression on her heart is the MVTHS Special Olympics athletes. Lastly, a Special Olympics athlete bravely stands before his classmates and honestly opens up as he tells everyone that over the years he has been called retarded and routinely been made fun of. His feelings and raw emotion is bared for all to hear the pain he endured. At the end, he implores his classmates and all adults present to use helpful words instead of hurtful words . . . achingly to STOP using the R-word. Never has silence been so loud.

The SILENCE hangs thickly in the air until the basketball theme-music, “Put it on the Line”, plays over the sound-system as the team gathers in the lobby. The excitement builds and every single person jumps to their feet to clap. The starting line-up is announced and the team takes the floor. Which team? The first-ever MVTHS Special Olympics Basketball Team takes the floor and basks in the delight of the standing ovation. The team sets up on the floor and the ball is tossed into the air for the starting tip-off!

Now open your eyes.

Time to decide . . . is this fact or fantasy? How about at your school?

If it can be a reality at Mt. Vernon Township High School, it can be reality at your school, too!

Being a Big Sister

The following guest blog comes from a volunteer with Special Olympics Missouri.

My name is Patricia. I’m a college student, intern, and executive board member of several on-campus organizations. But the thing I am, full time, with no exception is an older sister. I have two younger sisters and both of them are amazing. Hailey is 16 and interested in math and science more than anything on the face of the planet. She has told me that she wants to, one day, be a scientist in the field of stem cell research. My sister Harley is wonderfully creative, an artist, a caretaker, and one of the most loving people I have ever met in my entire life.

Harley has Autism. People have told her horrible things her entire life about herself, which are entirely untrue. I try to let her know that her Autism is something that makes her special, because it lets her look at people differently: with her whole heart. Many of the “faults” we see in people she completely overlooks because she sees them as kind, loving, and gorgeous individuals. Needless to say, having a sister who has affected my life so fully has had an impact on me. It’s made me see how beautiful all individuals are, how special.

When I went to college I started hearing about Special Olympics volunteering. It made me think how I could help, and how I can be a big sister to children who may not have someone to reach out to. Being involved in Special Olympics in Missouri has been such a rewarding experience, because I get to work with children whose happiness and excitement is contagious. I love being able to see all the smiles and getting all the hugs every time I volunteer.

I love being a big sister.

Together We Are Greater

The following guest blog comes from Juan L., a partner at Neuqua Valley High School and a co-chair of the Special Olympics Illinois Youth Activation Committee.

Everyone was cheering, and people surrounded us yelling congratulations, giving us high fives, and big hugs. We felt like we were on top of the world for a moment, it was truly one of the best feelings in the world.

Our names are Juan and Liam and we are two of the co-chairs for Project UNIFY. The cheering and praise was a result of our fantastic first place prize in our schools dance competition, Neuqua Knows It Can Dance. It was our third year doing the dance competition and it has always been a blast with a mix of friends with intellectual disabilities and their peers.

This year we wanted it to be perfect, so we started early practicing and practicing till we coud do the dance in our sleep. Although, we had never won before and didn’t expect to this year (since we exceeded the maximum amount of people in a group allowed) it came to our surprise when they announced the winners of this years dance competition. The moment they said “PEER PARTNER ROCKSTARS” our entire group erupted in cheers and all of our peers were equally ecstatic.

Looking back on that night I could truly appreciate the hard work we all put into it, to show that people with intellectual disabilities are able to accomplish the same things that other people can do. When we were talking about that night, Liam said his favorite part was when everybody cheered for him. In our society many people don’t realize the potential and awesome talent that Special Olympics athletes have and it feels great to finally be recognized.

That entire week we were treated like royalty in the halls and everyone kept telling us how great we looked and how well organized it was. Liam and I felt so proud not only on our victory, but on our school’s support. It is good to know that our school not only has a program for students with intellectual disabilities, but encourages them as well. The last day of that week we were able to perform at the school pep rally in front of four thousand students. I think that was when we really shined, and not just because of our neon costumes.

Our dance not only showed that we had mad dance skills, but that students with intellectual disabilities are capable of amazing things and that together we can be even greater.

Everyone has ABILITIES!

Many people use the term “person with an intellectual disability”, but I prefer to say a “person with different abilities” because people with different abilities are sharing their talents in their schools, communities and workplaces everyday.

I have a different ability.

Having a different ability in my case is not a let-down. It is actually is a very positive thing. I am able to do certain things that some people would have a difficulty with. In my position, I am in charge of maintaining an accurate inventory of resources, as well as facilitating shipping requests and assisting with administrative operations, communications and social media. Because of my abilities, I am a positive member of my team at work.

Another positive thing about having a different ability is being seen as a role model and mentor. This past summer I had the opportunity to manage an intern who also had a different ability. There were a few challenges throughout the summer. Regardless of those challenges, this individual looked up to me as a role model and mentor throughout his internship. I was viewed the same way when I participated with Special Olympics at George Mason University. I was viewed by my teammates as a leader, role model and mentor for being a student and an athlete during my four years. It is a positive feeling to be seen in this perspective by many people.

As I see it, there is nothing negative about having a different ability at all. You just need to take the negativity and turned it around into positivity. Through your positivity, your different ability will show its full potential and more. A positive mind is able to accomplish anything in life.

In the end, we need to dig deep within ourselves and believe that we are all capable of great and wonderful things in life. We all have gifts and talents because of our different abilities and we should let them shine, not hide them from everyone. The sky is the limit if we remain focused and determined to show everyone our gifts and talents.