About Jerry

Hi, I'm Jerry! I'm a Special Olympics Viriginia athlete and I have competing for 16 years in six sports. I now work at Special Olympics with Project Unify as Project UNIFY Coordinator. Have any questions about Project UNIFY, don't be afraid to ask!

My Experience with Special Olympics

Corrin Rogers is a Youth Activation Committee Member from Delaware… this is her Special Olympics experience.

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I first got involved in Special Olympics through friends, and it has been one of the best experiences of my life. I was first involved through the 2012 Polar Bear Plunge. I was shocked and touched by how motivated the participants were in supporting Special Olympics. It was cold and windy, yet the spirit of the plungers brightened the event. Attending the Plunge that day truly inspired me to support Special Olympics Delaware.

I then started getting involved with other Special Olympics events, including Fans in the Stands for the Summer Games. Watching all the athletes up close taught me that being involved in Special Olympics really can make a difference in the personal impact of others.

I was then encouraged to apply for the Project UNIFY Youth Activation Committee and was honored when I was accepted as a member. Being on this committee has further increased my knowledge and participation with Special Olympics. I have become more aware that inclusion is not just an idea, but an action that can make a change in the lives of athletes.

Perhaps one of my favorite experiences was being a Unified Partner of the Newark team. Although I was certainly not the best bowler, my bowling partner and I realized that having fun and trying our best was truly the greatest achievement.

Being involved in Special Olympics, from the sports to the inclusive camaraderie, has enriched my life.

From Doctor to Nonprofit Leader

Danielle Liebl, a former Special Olympics Project UNIFY National Youth Activation Committee Member from Minnesota, recently established her own non-profit – DIFFERbilities Experience. An extraordinary individual, Danielle has dedicated her life to make a difference for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities.

The following blog post was written by Danielle for the DIFFERbilities Experience Blog and shared here with permission..

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At the age of six years old, I can recall my mom and dad asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I always responded, “An orthopedic surgeon at Gillette.” You may be wondering how on earth does a six year old know what an orthopedic surgeon is? When you have cerebral palsy, not only do you see a lot of doctors, you also become very familiar with their titles. At the age of six, my primary doctor was an orthopedic surgeon and I thought he was the coolest! This dream of being an orthopedic surgeon lasted until sophomore year in high school, when biology class was required and I found out it is not my cup of tea. I believe my parents let out a huge sigh of relief when they realized there would be no lawsuits in the future. They always feared that I would have a spasm and accidentally put someone’s femur bone in their rib cage.

Although I realized that a career as a surgeon may not be for me, I still knew I wanted to help people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities. I decided instead of forcing myself to like biology, I should focus on something I was passionate. In high school I was very involved in Special Olympics. Through this tremendous organization, I was able to find my voice, my confidence and my passion. No longer was I the girl with cerebral palsy, instead, I was a respected human being. In February 2009, I was invited to the Special Olympics World Youth Summit in Boise, Idaho. There I was able to be a part of a group of leaders with and without disabilities to form the campaign, “Spread The Word To End The Word.” This campaign educates young people about the misuse of the word “retard(ed).” For the first time in my life a saw a future of a better society , a society that doesn’t label ability or the lack thereof. This vision of the future stuck with me when I entered my freshman year at the College of Saint Benedict.

During my first year of college, I decided to host a Spread The Word To End The Word Campaign at my college. Once the campaign took off, students started noticing the campaign and the goal of social equality it was trying to achieve. One student took a particular interest and emailed me to see what he could do to help. The following fall my classmate and I created a club that was affiliated with Special Olympics Minnesota. The purpose of the club was to raise awareness for people with disabilities, promote the social inclusion of people with disabilities, and to educate students and faculty on campus about better ways to treat, interact, and build relationships with people with disabilities. The original idea of the club was to promote this purpose through events and campaigns such as the Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign, and disabilities week. However, we found greater potential of the club, promoting inclusion in a very direct way. The club introduced programs in which students could experience inclusion first hand; programs such as: Greatest Friends and Special Olympics Minnesota Unified Sports.

I had no idea the impact this would make, and how it fed into my vision of creating an inclusive society. Towards the end of my junior year in college, a mentor of mine nominated me for the Peace First Prize. The Peace First Prize is a two year fellowship and grant awarded to young peacemakers who demonstrate compassion, courage and collaborative change. During the six month interview process, I was asked the question, “What do you see as the future of the club you started at your college?” To my surprise I answered, “Growing it into a nonprofit.” In the fall of my senior year, it was announced that I was one of ten recipients of the inaugural Peace First Prize. Shortly after, it was decided that during my fellowship, I would focus on growing the club a started at St. Ben’s into a nonprofit. It was soon after DIFFERbilities Experience was born.

It has been a wild ride to where I ended up. The professions of a doctor and a nonprofit leader are on the complete opposites of the spectrum. Do I regret not being an orthopedic surgeon? On one hand it would be an awesome profession, but then I run the risk of having to take biology again and getting sued for malpractice. On the other hand, I would never have gotten to take this wonderful journey of founding DIFFERbilities Experience. DIFFERbilities Experience has helped me grow as a leader, a person, and has taught me many valuable lessons. I truly hope that DIFFERbilities Experience can impact lives like it has mine. I would not trade this journey for anything, and I look forward to taking the next journey with you.

Together, we will create a world where inclusion is the norm!

 

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

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.

Halfway experience of the SONA Conference

We are half way through the 2013 SONA Conference in Charlotte, NC. The 90 youth leaders are having a great time at the conference. Here are some highlights of the week thus far.

Terri and Savanna from SO. South Dakota: “We think the conference is really great and has given us a lot information to take back to our state and school to get Project UNIFY started. We also think people should really get involved.”

Christopher and Austin from S.O. Arizona: “We think the SONA Conference is good to get people more information about getting Project UNIFY and Unified Sports into the schools. We like it as well!

Shane from S.O. Utah: It is great and interesting!”

Savannah and Jhaicelle from S.O. Southern California: “This conference is awesome, excellent, fantastic, amazing, fun and we are making new friends! We are learning a lot of information to bring back to our home in Southern California.”

Ian and Gunnar from S.O. Idaho: “It is fun, exciting and chance to meet new people.It is the best experience ever for us.”

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Leaders of Tomorrow

Day One of the Special Olympics North America Conference ended a positive note for the 90 youth leaders. All 90 of them will be going back to their states after the conference concludes with new ideas on Here what some of the youth leaders will be doling after the conference in their states.

Kaitlyn and Matthew from S.O. Kansas: “We are going back to our school to start up Project UNIFY for next year.”

Julia and Perez from S.O. District of Columbia: “We are go to push Special Olympics DC into the schools. Special Olympics DC has a great community base of older athletes.but are not really in schools. So we are going to make a big push to Special Olympics in the DC Schools.”

Madison and Tori from S.O. Kentucky: “We are try our best to bring more people into our local Special Olympics program. We are also going to do our best to start up a Project UNIFY club at our school.”

Marta and Grace from S.O. Wisconsin: “We are try to unified our communities around our school communities.”

Revealing the Champion

I recently competed in aquatics at the 2013 Special Olympics Virginia (SOVA) Summer Games in Richmond. This year’s Summer Games were different from previous, as heavy rainfall cancelled all the outdoor sports on both Friday and Saturday. While rain left most of the athletes with little to do, the athletes in Aquatics and Bowling were able to compete.

My delegation, Area 23 (Greater Prince William Area), had ten athletes and three coaches. While small, we brought home 19 medals out of the 30 events we competed in two days. We also had other members of our delegation come and cheer us on. It was a new experience for us.

Let's Go Greater Prince William Area

Let’s Go Greater Prince William Area

My individual events were the 25 meter Breaststroke, 50 meter Freestyle and Breaststroke. Coming into Summer Games, I had my mind focused on going all out to try and earn the opportunity to compete at the 2014 Special Olympics USA National Games. I knew that I needed to earn gold to have a shot. My first event final was the 25m Breaststroke. When the start signal went off, I swam as fast as I could and finished in first place with a time of 22.41 seconds. I was pretty excited that I won the first gold medal for my delegation.

Jerry winning the gold medal in 25m Breaststroke

Jerry winning the gold medal in 25m Breaststroke

Day two of the aquatics competition was energy packed day with the remaining event finals. My two event finals were the 50 meter Freestyle and Breaststroke. My 50 meter Freestyle event final was my first event of the day. I was nervous going into this final since I only swam twice in previous meets. When the start signal went off, I swam as fast I could and finished with the silver medal with a time of 46.52 seconds. I was happy with that result.

My 50 meter Breaststroke final was almost two hours after my 50 meter Freestyle final. When it was time for me to get into the water, I knew I was ready to go for the gold. When the start signal went off, I went into my zone of swimming fast and keeping my focus ahead. When I touched the wall, I looked straight at the scoreboard for my time. I won the gold medal with a time of 50.24 seconds. I was excited that I repeated for the third time in a row as the fastest 50 meter Breaststroke swimmer in Special Olympics Virginia.

Jerry winning the gold medal in 50M Breaststroke

After the aquatics competition was over, my team went back to the dorms. We were all proud of ourselves for what we accomplished over those two days of competition. I was proud of myself because I knew I had a chance of being selected for Team Virginia.

The Closing Ceremony was great and reminded me that I came to Summer Games on a mission and succeed in that mission. When Sunday came, it was kind of sad to be leaving Richmond after a great weekend of competition.

Every athlete from all five sports was happy that they got the opportunity to come down to Richmond. Regardless of competing or not competing, the smiles on the athletes’ faces are what are important of being a champion. In the end, there is a champion in us all and we revealed it in many different ways.

From the 2013 Special Olympics Virginia Summer Games

From the 2013 Special Olympics Virginia Summer Games