To My Friend…

The beautiful poem below was written by 14-year old Project UNIFY youth leader Raven McCombs from North Carolina.

Special Olympics athlete Taylor Stickle listens on as Raven McCombs reads her poem.

Special Olympics athlete Taylor Stickle listens on as Raven McCombs reads her poem.

Your spirit has taught me that we are so far behind, you face challenges that don’t compare to mine.

I am in awe of all of your courage, you never seem to get discouraged.

We all often just walked on by, and never noticed the light in your eye.

You always accept us for who we are, and he is the reason we have made it this far.

It is my honor to call you a friend, a friend I’ll be there for them beginning to end.

Not another day will go by where you have to sit and wonder why.

I’ll be there for you, you’ll be there for me. Our trust is the clue and our love is the key.

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Unified Sports at World Games

Yesterday, five youth leaders from the Global Youth Activation Summit had the opportunity to participate in the Floor Hockey Unified Sports Experience. The event was a great chance for our youth leaders to show off their sports skills and have fun with some amazing Special Olympics supporters!! Unified Sports Experience events pair Special Olympics athletes with partners, celebrities and supporters in an exhibition match that helps promote the importance of Unified Sports within Special Olympics.

Abraham Moreno and Daniel Giordani of Special Olympics Southern California were two of the lucky young people selected to play in the game. 

“My experience playing in the Unified Sports Floor Hockey Game was incredible. I am glad to be selected to play in that game at the world’s grand stage at the World Winter Games. I totally love to play floor hockey, I love it very much and I wish I could play it every single day. I was glad to play floor hockey again for the first time in two months. It was a great feeling playing it again.

The officials gave us uniforms to wear and there were four teams. I was on the blue team. We played two games. I scored two goals in the first game. We had a big lead in the first half of the game, then the other team caught up to tie the score 6-6. In the last minute, my team was able to break the tie and win the game. In the second game, it was for the championship, winner against winter. There were celebrities that played and they were pretty tall. We won the game by five and got first place.

I was glad that I was able to play in this game and I had a great time.”

– Abraham Moreno, athlete

Abraham Moreno faces off against former NBA star Sam Perkins in the Floor Hockey Unified Sports Experience

Abraham Moreno faces off against former NBA star Sam Perkins in the Floor Hockey Unified Sports Experience

“My Unified Sports Experience was a very enjoyable one. I played floor hockey. Although we lost both games, I bonded with all of my teammates and we had a blast! I didn’t realize how much fun floor hockey could be. It was such an amazing experience meeting so many people of different races, genders and abilities. While participants in Unified Sports, all of our difference seemed to be non-existent and we were just out there having a good time and enjoying each other’s company.

Unified Sports really bring out the true meaning of Special Olympics: love, acceptance and tolerance.

It was amazing.”

– Daniel Giordani, partner

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!

Leaders of Today and Tomorrow

This past weekend, our National Youth Activation Committee members were here in Washington, DC for the bi-annual National YAC meeting! 19 youth leaders, along with 14 mentors from their local state Special Olympics Programs, came together from around the country to brainstorm ideas and plan for a great year of projects and activities.

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As always – I was blown away by these amazing and inspiring youth leaders who help catapult our movement of acceptance and respect into schools and towns across the country. While there were so many examples of their incredible leadership throughout the weekend, I had to share the results of one particular activity during a professional development session.

In the activity, each National YAC member was asked to develop a quote that expressed their ideas, thoughts, values, feelings or attitudes about Special Olympics, friends, family and/or courage.

The results are amazing. These young people are truly the leaders of today… but they will most certainly be the leaders of the future as well.

———-

“Special Olympics isn’t just for people with disabilities… Special Olympics has helped me find my voice, build my confidence and identify my passion.”
Kaitlyn Smith, Colorado

“Stop watching every step you take. Close your eyes and let the world surprise you.”
Shelby Lynne Dial, Wyoming

“Everyone can help create change; you just have to believe in yourself.”
Heather Glaser, Wyoming

“Let the way you walk and talk exemplify who you truly are.”
Daniel Fink, Washington

“Leaders don’t follow the path of the past; leaders make their own path. If they are a true leader, no matter the obstacles, they will prevail.”
Dallas Lopez, Texas

“Everyday a new challenge awaits, it’s up to us to find the right path.”
Brady Platt, South Carolina

“Our memories define us: every laugh, every kiss, every tear is a part of who we are. So let’s strive to become better people starting with our memories.”
Rachel Alm, Hawaii

“I am nothing without my Special Olympics family – they encourage and inspire me to be better.”
Kelsey Foster, South Carolina

“Life with your three musketeers always makes you happy.”
James Kweon, Idaho

“Change should be respected, not hated.”
Bernice Higa-French, Hawaii

“Each of us is created with a seed deep within. When you embrace the sunshine of all circumstances and be open to the shower of others’ influence, only then will a beautiful flower grow that will be a gift to the world.”
Danielle Liebl, Minnesota

“There are four words on the Special Olympics medal: skill, courage, sharing and joy. Skill is the least important because the other three are what win you the gold.”
Jordan Schubert, Philadelphia

“I want to live in a world where madness is meditated, nonsense is valued, challenges are embraced and fostering creativity and imagination is our greatest objective.”
Evan Heller, Massachusetts

“Life as a star is like reaching a certain goal. Our favorite YAC family is like a huge star – above and beyond.”
Tanealya Hueth, Montana

Engaging Others

Post submitted by Anderson Williams, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Tennessee College Access and Success Network. In addition to regional, national, and international training and consulting work, Williams co-authored “The Core Principles for Engaging Young People in Community Change” and “Youth Organizing for Educational Change” with the Forum for Youth Investment.

Part of the confusion and pressure of being a middle and high school student is not just that relatively new feeling of “otherness” (i.e. being different) but that this feeling charges our emotional and cognitive development in ways that can last a lifetime. These are truly formative years. Starting in our teens and carrying through the rest of our lives, we develop habits in response to our “otherness” in which we:

  1. conform and adapt so that we are included (eliminate otherness),
  2. isolate and look for proxies for positive social relationships (neutralize otherness), or
  3. develop the confidence to be who we are regardless of what others think (celebrate otherness)

The reality is that during the teenage years we move in and out of all of these responses quite frequently and without notice. This is kind of what defines the teenage years. It’s why adults think teens are weird! It is also what makes the teenage years such a critical time for inclusion and genuine engagement.

But, for many students with physical and intellectual disabilities, the option of “conforming” feels impossible in a traditional sense. They are so strongly considered “other” by peers and adults that the opportunity to just become one of the group is out of their hands. Similarly, they are often structurally isolated – both socially and physically – living parallel lives to their same-aged peers in their own wing of the school, with their own teachers, classrooms, and school and community activities.  And, as long as this is the case, as long as they are the “others”, inclusion and full engagement are impossibilities for everyone.

The fact is that every teen, every one of us actually, is “other”.

We are all different and we all need to have a say in our own development and the paths we choose. When otherness is allowed the space to be celebrated, inclusion, rather than isolation, becomes the norm. When everyone is understood as other then otherness as we know it no longer exists. And, when we engage others, we all engage our best selves.

‘BULLY’ Brings Media Attention to Bullying & School Climate

On March 30, the documentary BULLY opened in select theaters in New York and L.A (the film will be released throughout the U.S. and Canada in April). The film, directed by Sundance and Emmy-award winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch (distributed by the Weinstein Company), is garnering tremendous media attention and has already begun to serve as a catalyst for conversation on the topic of bullying.

Over 13 million American kids will be bullied this year, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the nation. BULLY brings human scale to this startling statistic, offering an intimate, unflinching look at how bullying has touched five kids and their families.

BULLY is a character-driven documentary. At its heart are those with huge stakes in this issue whose stories each represent a different facet of America’s bullying crisis. Filmed over the course of the 2009/2010 school year, BULLY opens a window onto the pained and often endangered lives of bullied kids, revealing a problem that transcends geographic, racial, ethnic and economic borders. It documents the responses of teachers and administrators to aggressive behaviors that defy “kids will be kids” clichés, and it captures a growing movement among parents and youths to change how bullying is handled in schools, in communities and in society as a whole.

While Special Olympics is not an official partner, nor direct endorser, of this film, we applaud the efforts of those who seek to create a safer, more accepting and respectful world for all.

Bullying is an issue closely connected to our movement of acceptance and inclusion that has been going on for the past 44 years at Special Olympics.

60% of students with special needs reporting being bullied compared to 25% of general education students.

Statistics like this demonstrate the severity of this issue for the specific population of students with disabilities. In March, the White House hosted a conference on bullying prevention. Tim Shriver, CEO of Special Olympics, attended the event, representing the voice of those with intellectual disabilities and the mindset that it was time for a change.

Through efforts such as Spread the Word to End the Word, Project UNIFY® and Unified Sports®, Special Olympics has actively worked with youth, schools, educators, families and the communities to create climates of inclusion, respect and understanding. These initiatives encourage engagement, character-building and positive youth leadership, and are preventive mechanisms to discourage stigmatizing and abusive language and behavior.

The power of Unified Sports (where students with and without intellectual disabilities compete together as teammates) has extended beyond the playing field. In a 2011 survey, of Special Olympics Maryland high school Unified Partners who observed their teammates with disabilities being bullied or teased, 91% reported standing up for them! Through Unified Sports, we are takings steps towards more positive and inclusive school environments as young people establish friendships and recognize the value of ALL students!

As you begin discussing the topic of bullying in the classroom or with your friends, parents, children or students, we wanted to provide a collection of resources that will help as you begin working towards real change in school climate:

You can also join our conversations here on our blog or through Special Olympics and Project UNIFY social channels:

Live a Life of RESPECT and ACCEPTANCE

For the past 6 years I have been highly involved with Special Olympics and Partners Club, an inclusive club where students with and without intellectual disabilities can come together for sports training and competition.

It all started the first few weeks of High School … There may be a few guys out there that can relate, but I first got involved with Special Olympics when a pretty girl asked me to come to a lunchtime meeting at school. Of course I said yes! But little did I know that lunchtime meeting would end up changing the way I look at life and ultimately change how I look at other people.

At East Anchorage High School in Anchorage, AK I was immersed in a very diverse school atmosphere, with students coming from all different ethnic backgrounds, so naturally I was used to seeing different people around the hallway. Partners Club, however, showed me how fun life can be when you treat people with RESPECT! My first year in Partners Club I was part of a group of students who enjoyed interacting at lunch, practicing sports after school, and competing in high level sports competition. While that may seem like a pretty typical group of students, it was better because we were all about inclusion and making sure people felt accepted.

Besides the sports aspect of our Partners Club, we also ran a daily Espresso Shop. We had students with and without intellectual disabilities making drinks, taking orders, running the cash machine, and interacting with our customers. This inclusive coffee shop offered an opportunity to showcase our club — showing our student body how much fun we had together and emulating what friendship truly looks like when you recognize people for their abilities rather than their disabilities.

In the following years of high school I was a part of a movement of young leaders that wanted to see change in the school atmosphere  (and did!). Every week we held meetings, made announcements over the school system PA and wore our Partner’s Club tie-dye t-shirts on Tuesdays; we even hosted Spread the Word to End the Word campaigns to eliminate the R-word from our campus. Seeing teachers and students in the hall wearing tie-dye was amazing – everyone wanted one because they knew the t-shirts represented RESPECT and ACCEPTANCE.

When I went to college at Washington State University, I was welcomed with open arms and held a weeklong Spread the Word to End the Word campaign in my first year. I also hosted a three-day bowling event with Special Olympics athletes and WSU athletes (our school’s quarterback even showed up because his friends told him it was fun)!

In my second year at the University, the head coach of the University Bowling Team became a volunteer coach for my unified bowling team and offered to host a bowling tournament with the WSU student athletes from other sports teams. Finally after working with the WSU athletics department they decided they wanted to host the Special Olympics Washington East Region Basketball Tournament at our school!

These are just a few examples of how an inclusive school atmosphere can truly change the way students; teachers, administrators, and community members treat people inside and outside school. In the last six years Special Olympics has been an instrumental part in my life and I hope you too will embrace the movement, live a life of RESPECT and ACCEPTANCE and benefit from positive interactions with everyone you meet.