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.

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.

Youth Voice at the Department of Education

On Tuesday March 25, Special Olympics Project UNIFY staff, along with youth leaders and educators from across the country, presented to the Department of Education on the power and growth of Project UNIFY over the last year. Special Olympics athlete and youth leader Kabir Robinson from Special Olympics Washington, joined Delaware youth leader Connor Moore and educators Erin Trzcinski and Tom Ledcke, from Delaware and Washington, respectively, to share their personal experiences with Project UNIFY.

Kabir’s impactful remarks are below. Stay tuned on the blog for more powerful experiences from Connor, Tom and Erin, or watch the entire presentation here

Introductory Remarks

20140325_094050_resized[2]Hi everyone. My name is Kabir Robinson. I live in Seattle, Washington. I am a member of the National Youth Activation Committee. I have been involved with Special Olympics for 3 to 4 years. I joined because I just want to be treated equally and be happy. I also want to be a better leader in sports.

I have a twin brother. When we were in middle school, he played soccer. He went to practices with his friends and played in games every weekend. I really wanted to play too, but I couldn’t. At school, people were always talking about how cool soccer was. Sometimes I got to play with my friends at middle school, but I wanted to play soccer for real and be on a team.

I felt lonely and left out and sad that I couldn’t play. It wasn’t fair that my brother could be on a team and I couldn’t because I wasn’t fast enough. I just wanted to be happy.

Then, when I went to Nathan Hale High School, one of the coaches for Unified soccer came to my classroom. I found out that people were having meetings about Unified soccer and I decided to go. I was so happy and excited about being on a team. I got more and more excited until we started practices, which were awesome. My team won 10 games. It is so fun to be part of a team.

All I want to say is that I was never fast enough in 7th and 8th grade. But in 9th grade, I did it!

Also, everyone in this room is awesome.

I love public speaking to people about sports for those with and without intellectual disabilities. I love to talk. It is awesome and a lot of fun to speak to people out in public. I love talking to all of you about sports and people with intellectual disabilities. It’s been a lot of fun!

 

Testimonial

Online StreamI have made a lot of friends. This means a lot to me. In school, I just want to learn new things, so I asked my teacher to sign me up for mainstream classes in Spanish and art.

I also want to be with the other sophomores, not just my special education class, because my intellectual disability doesn’t define me. I am a sophomore first. So now, at school assemblies, I sit with all the other 10th graders!

Since Project UNIFY, I am happier and more confident.

Through working with my friends on Project UNIFY, I have learned about myself. I have things to say and people want to hear them.

A leader helps people gets things done. They make you see what good ideas you have. They help you organize your ideas and make something happen. Inclusive Youth Leadership is important to me because it helps me feel included in every way. Then I can help others feel included and I care a lot about other people.

To spread inclusion around makes me happy.

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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Unified Track and Field at Lunenburgh High School

As summer break comes to an end and school officially starts, we wanted to share a great post on Unified Sports from Special Olympics Massachusetts Unified Partner David Albertini of Lunbenburg High School. As David begins his senior year of high school, he shares his experience on the power of Unified Sports.  

Having unified track at our school last year was really fun. It was very nice to see so many people of different backgrounds and walks of life down on the track. I myself ran on the Lunbenburg High School track team, but having the unified track team there three days a week was quite an experience. It was  amazing to see all of the athletes at Lunenburg High School running on the same track. While we may be all of different speeds and skill levels, we were all athletes and we were all looking to compete. There was no labels on anyone except for their lane numbers. This is something anyone would appreciate, runner or not.

I have to admit that I was uncertain as to how this whole thing would work out, but after the first practice I realized we had a lot more in common that I thought.

We were all athletes and wanted to get better and win.

The final meet at the end of the season with all the unified track teams was a lot of work but it was all worth it. It was hot out and on an artificial turf surface, but it was so much fun to see every person on that track trying their best. There is something to be said about people who try their best and are proud of it. The biggest difference for me was that I was working the meet instead of running in the meet. Other than that, it had the same look and feel of any other meet I had been to, that was something else I hadn’t expected. I could relate to the athletes being nervous, excited, disappointed, and victorious at different points in the meet.

I think a lot of misconceptions and barriers came down during the meet.

At the end of the season we had our Spring track Banquet, as we do every year. It seemed natural that the Unified Sports Track Team would be included in the celebration along with the boys’ team and girls’ team. As the coaches handed out varsity letters and other awards, the excitement level increased and you could really see the pride and sense of accomplishment among the track athletes (all of them) and their families. All three teams had a great time and I think everyone learned a lot about each other. I think the second year will be even better. I hope all of our track programs continue to attract new members.

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Basketball = Fun + Friendship

The following blog post comes from Garret Lee, a Special Olympics Colorado volunteer & student at the University of Denver. 

Red Shirt Rookies

The past 5 weeks, I have had the privilege to be the lead volunteer for the Red Shirt Rookies* program at Summit Elementary School in the Cherry Creek School District. I came into Summit with plans to implement a nearly identical program to that of my Unified Sports team at Heritage High School, but quickly learned that the Red Shirt Rookies program was different. In fact, all levels of Project Unify are different, and each school is unique, which is part of the reason the program is so powerful.

While at first, the large number of Rookies was hard to manage, my group of volunteers and I grew to love the program’s flexibility. No matter what activities we had the athletes and partners do, they approached it with a smile on their face. Obviously, shooting the basketball was most of the kids’ favorite part. It was my favorite too, because I saw the most improvement. Seeing the smiles on kids’ faces that could barely shoot the ball but learned to make a basket was unforgettable.

While observing the skill development was exciting, the most inspirational part of the program for me was watching the growth in the children involved. At first, it was very apparent that many of the special needs athletes were uncomfortable around the partners, and the partners weren’t too open to be friends with the athletes. However as time went on, we saw friendships develop across the boundaries simply through passing a basketball… that was incredible. By the final cheer on the last practice, it was very apparent that many of these boundaries between the Rookies had been broken down and all of the kids felt comfortable around each other. It is inspiring to see that these children will soon be our leaders, and they will be doing it together. All of my volunteers and I are excited to see the upcoming boundaries that can be broken down in the spring, when this group of amazing Red Shirt Rookies hit the soccer pitch.

*Red Shirt Rookies is an after school basketball skills program for students with and without intellectual disabilities in grades K – 5. The young students work with local volunteers to practice their basketball skills and have fun getting to know their peers.