Youth Leaders Take on the White House

Kaitlyn & DanielleOn Thursday July 31st, my Special Olympics adventures took me to a new place: The White House.

President Obama and the First Lady graciously offered to host a dinner in Celebration of the Special Olympics Unified Generation, and I was beyond honored and humbled to be invited to take part in the celebration. Throughout the evening I had the opportunity to speak with amazing individuals, such as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Jordin Sparks, Jason Derulo, Michelle Kwan, Maria Shriver, constituents from ESPN and Coke, and the list goes on. We were served an immaculate meal, and the evening ended with an amazing private performance by Katy Perry.

Being invited to the White House will go down in the books as one of the most phenomenal experiences I have ever had—but it is not because I was surrounded by celebrities all night. In fact, it is not even because I got to meet the President of the United States. This night was so special and memorable for me, because I experienced it with my best friend, Danielle Liebl, by my side. Nothing, not even meeting the President, could top how blessed and fortunate I am to have a friend like her.

We are changing perceptions on what it means to live unified.

By sharing the power of our friendship with attendees at the dinner, we were sharing the power of the Unified Generation. We are breaking down barriers and creating a community where every single person feels that they have a place to belong. The Unified Generation is changing the world, and I am so honored that my best friend and I are helping to make this happen.

We ARE the Unified Generation!


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Learn more about the evening at the White House, or join us and become part of the Unified Generation.


Following Inclusive Youth Leadership: Post Twitter Chat Reflection

Jamie Behymer, a co-chair of the Inclusive Youth Leadership Sub-Committee with the National YAC, shares her reflections about a recent #ProjectUNIFY Twitter Chat.

Phones in hand, Twitter App open, and ideas ready for sharing, the Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee met on Monday, January 13 to host the first-ever Special Olympics Project UNIFY® Twitter Chat!

 A Few Thoughts About the Twitter Chat

“Before Twitter I was on a lonely road; the Twitter Chat is the intersection that brings all the different cars, different people, different ideas flowing together,” James Kweon, an Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee co-chair, said.

“This was something monumental,” Clement Coulston, the Inclusive Youth Leadership mentor, said. “Youth are the leaders of today and through collaboration and reflection, we were able to foster an idea of a new social norm, inclusion.”

Screen Shot 2014-01-25 at 8.57.42 PMMembers of the Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee educated participants about Inclusive Youth Leadership and the Guidebook that supports it’s development, but also learned how social media can impact continued collaboration. With the sub-committee tweeting out questions using #ProjectUNIFY, conversations were easily accessible for participants and continue to encourage discussions with people from around the world.

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Twitter Chats are utilized to promote communication through stories, experiences, and resources, using 140-characters or less. “Youth” was the most prominent word throughout the evening, followed by “change” and “leader.” Whether it was an Adult Ally tweeting from Montana, or high school student in Washington, the Twitter Chat ignited ideas concerning the voice students’ have in society.

Karina Silva, an Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee member, closed the chat with:

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Her tweet, like many others, showcased the power of inclusion and acceptance, and solidified the notion that everyone can be an agent of change.

With 48 contributors and 475 tweets, the inaugural Special Olympics Project UNIFY® Twitter Chat surpassed the expectations of the Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee, I would love to hear feedback from participants in the future.  Click on the Storify below to review highlights from the chat and follow us @SOProjectUNIFY!

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Inaugural Special Olympics #ProjectUNIFY Twitter Chat!

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We encourage you to join the inaugural Special Olympics Project UNIFY® Inclusive Youth Leadership Twitter Chat on Monday, January 13 at 7:00 p.m. EST! This is an opportunity for youth and adult allies to engage in a conversation on changing social climate in schools and using social media as a form of reflection –  to celebrate past successes or gain insight on any challenges individuals have faced.

The Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee, with the Special Olympics National Youth Activation Committee, will be hosting the event and hopes to promote awareness of inclusion in communities across the country. To join the conversation, simply create a Twitter account and use the #ProjectUNIFY hashtag after all tweets and be ready for an awesome discussion!  Be sure to follow our Twitter Page, @SOProjectUNIFY.

Below is a resource that contains more information about Twitter and how to participate in the Twitter Chat. We look forward to all individuals that are ready to have their voices heard!


Experiencing Joy

Like many students, Morgan got to college and was ready to get more involved with her community. She began volunteering with Special Olympics Missouri through her sorority, Alpha Sigma Alpha, and is now an active and engaged leader in the Special Olympics Movement.   

I had not been very involved with Special Olympics until I came to college.

I joined Alpha Sigma Alpha at Missouri Western State University, and one of our national philanthropies is Special Olympics. So, I started going to events and really enjoyed it. Seeing these wonderful people being so empowered and proud of themselves was awesome. Soon, I started to get more involved. I helped coach a middle school track team, I was on the Games Management Team for the Northwest area basketball tournament and the Games Management Team for the Spring Games here.

One of my very favorite memories of Special Olympics is from the Opening Ceremony at the basketball tournament. We had a line of men and women in uniform. The athlete with the torch went around the outside of the gymnasium and then up the middle of the line of people in uniform. All the while, “Standing Outside the Fire” by Garth Brooks was playing. I had tears in my eyes to see all these athletes with different skills and abilities and all these people here to support and cheer for them. I will continue to volunteer with Special Olympics because of the joy it brings me to see the athletes with such happiness and sense of accomplishment

. Lindgren

2013 Special Olympics Global Development Summit – The Youth Voice


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Clement Coulston and Rachel Ward, Global Youth Facilitators for the 2013 Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit participated in the inaugural Global Development Summit, which gathered 300 world leaders from areas of government, business, education, economic and social development, media … Continue reading

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.

Making an Impact During Summer Vacation

This blog is written by Tanealya Hueth, a member of the National Youth Activation Committee, and an acvtive volunteer in her community in Montana. Tanealya shares some insigtht on how to avoid becoming detached from quality work during the summer. Just because school is out, doesn’t mean we have to be!

School is out and summer vacation has begun. This does not mean as a youth leader the impact that you have has to stop. Last summer, I had the opportunity to go to Greece and attend the National Youth Activation Summit. At this conference, we made an impact on others by discussions and workshops that helped each of us grow and become better leaders.

So the question is, “What can you do during summer vacation, as a youth leader, to make an impact?” Youth volunteering, being a mentor, helping in the community, or even getting others involved can make an impact. It is easy to see the impact of your actions thought these activities and this is even a fun way to spend your summer.

Where can you volunteer? First look for places to Volunteer in your community. Lots of places are looking for volunteers. Try your local Special Olympics office, youth camps, church, community garden, food banks, or local senior citizen centers. Also, you can look for places where you have an opportunity to work with young people with or without disabilities. As a leader you make an impact on others by being a role model or getting others involved.

Being a mentor is a great way to make an impact. Some mentoring programs are as easy as just being a friend to a child who needs one. Statistics show that kids who are mentored succeed greatly. Some of those statics are:

  • 58%  improved their school performance
  • 65% showed higher levels of self-confidence
  • 55% had a better attitude toward others and school

Start a website for teens by teens. Offer information and support for teens. Ask a local community service to host it for you.  Have a list of community services you can offer as referrals to kids in trouble or who are just lonely and need something to do during the summer. Put up helpful and upbeat articles of interest to other teens. Provide quizzes and puzzles. Make it a place other teens will want to come to for positive, encouraging, and supportive information and resources.

Do you love outdoor sports? Volunteer to coach your local Special Olympics team or play in a Unified Sports league. Or, do a little research and see if you have an Outdoor Education Center or Park Program in your area. Often these Centers offer programs for people with special needs and they nearly always need volunteers to help. What could be better than helping someone experience the joy of playing a sport.

Another option is to find out if there is a wheelchair sports program in your community. There are a lot of fine athletes who are confined to wheelchairs, still active and very competitive. Besides basketball, some wheelchair sports groups play rugby, hockey, tennis and softball. Get some friends together and challenge them to a game. You might be surprised who wins!

Bring some joy to a senior citizens facility. Not all senior citizens facilities are the same. They vary from having active seniors to bed-ridden individuals. But everybody has the same need – to know someone else cares. Why not throw a party for some folks in such a facility? It can be as simple as just bringing in some balloons and visiting with people (don’t worry about what to say – most of them will be happy to do the talking!). Or it can be as elaborate as performing a “show” for them. Gather some of your Special Olympics friends who can play music, sing, do card tricks, read poetry or tell stories – put it all together and make some people happy! They’ll talk about it for weeks.

If you or someone you know has a summer birthday, throw a birthday party but instead of gifts ask people to make a contribution to Special Olympics or another cause. Better yet, gather friends with birthdays in the same month and see how much you can raise!

These are just a few of the many ways that you canmake an impact as a youth leader during your summer vacation. Look around your community and talk to others about ways to volunteer. Don’t forget to get your friends involved. Be a role model and have fun with whatever you decide to do.

“If you have heart and determination in your life, then nothing can get in the way of your dreams!” ~Author Unknown