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

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.

Combined Talents

 An inspiring poem from Joe Olivo, Grade 11, Narragansett High School in Rhode Island

Spreading the word to end the word.
Playing together as one whole unit.
Making lifelong friends.
Feeling strong.
Cohesiveness is key.
Splendid season.
Sending a positive message.
Everyone on the same page.
Working together.
The more we play the stronger we become.
Changing attitudes and opening up minds.
The future looks bright.
Spreading the word to end the word.

And check out a great Spread the Word to End the Word video from the 2014 Narragansett High School Unified Sports Basketball Team.

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!