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

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Just the beginning…

As students finish up their final tests and get ready for summer to officially begin, we wanted to share an amazing reflection from Special Olympics Rhode Island’s Youth Activation Committee Chair, Karolyn Sundberg. As Karolyn readies herself to transition from high school to college, she shares some powerful insights on the positive impact of Project UNIFY throughout her high school experience.  

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

As senior year and my time as Special Olympics Rhode Island’s Youth Activation Committee chair comes to a close – this quote offers advice that I will soon have to take.

Reflecting on this past year as Chair of the Youth Activation Committee (YAC) – there have been countless wonderful memories – new experiences, goals reached, friendships made, and people who were inspired to come together for a truly amazing cause.  I am so incredibly proud of and moved by the devoted young leaders of our SORI Project UNIFY movement;  so proud of those individuals who have been so dedicated to working on all of our projects this year. Now our goal is to continue to reach out to youth in our state to spread the ideas of inclusion, unity, and acceptance.

I am exceedingly grateful for such a wonderful experience.

My involvement with Special Olympics began in the fall of my junior year.  I was  assigned to help plan the SORI annual Youth Forum and immediately fell in love with the atmosphere that surrounded Special Olympics and everyone involved.  While at this point there were only about 15 members and meeting attendance was sparse, we still began to see how powerful and motivating youth could be when it came to promoting inclusion and unity in their high schools. At my first YAC meeting of this year – I was awed to see how many students had eagerly come out to get involved with the program.  In just one year, our YAC had grown so large that it was divided into 5 regions, where each region was assigned to different tasks and projects.  Through the YAC, I have had the privilege of meeting some of the kindest, hardest working students from every corner of the state.  All of us had one common purpose – to speak out for equality and acceptance among students with and without disabilities.

I remember at the first YAC meeting  – it seemed as if there was so much to be done.  However, I never would have imagined that we would have been able to achieve some of the things we did this year. The YAC planned and organized a Youth Forum for athletes, partners and coaches to learn about ways to promote inclusion and inspire unity. We planned and organized the very first Middle School Youth Forum in the Nation. We created a statewide newsletter to share our stories of success and spread the word about our cause. Also, we successfully encouraged high school students to participate and support the Torch Run Plunge and Spread the Word to End the Word campaign in their schools.  We had record numbers participate in both of events.

Most importantly, this year as the YAC chair, I witnessed how Special Olympics touches the lives and hearts of so many people in so many ways.  I experienced firsthand the difference it makes. Special Olympics taught me to embrace differences and recognize talents in everyone.  I now realize the importance of the positivity and support Special Olympics offers to everyone and the confidence one can find inwardly after becoming involved. I continue to be inspired by the work the SORI YAC is doing and am honored to have had the chance to be a part of such a great group of people.

I know that my involvement with Special Olympics is something that will not end, and I am so thankful for the opportunity.

2013 Special Olympics Rhode Island Youth Forum

2013 Special Olympics Rhode Island Youth Forum

College: Time to Get Involved

As the school year comes to a close, we’re continuing our series on youth leadership from high school to college. Today’s blog comes from Brad Efune, National Youth Activation Committee member and sophomore at the University of Arizona.

Graduating high school and embarking on the journey called college is probably one of the most terrifying and exciting times in any young persons life. The experiences that lay ahead of you are those that will form you into the person that you will one day become.

So what is the key to making sure your transition from high school to college goes smoothly and successfully? I think the answer to that question is: you have to do what you know how to do, and what makes you feel comfortable.

Students who are actively involved in Project UNIFY or the Special Olympics movement in general need to STAY ACTIVE in youth involvement. Surrounding yourself with people that have common interests with you is the best and easiest way to make friends and acquaintances.

When I left high school and jumped into college life at the University of Arizona, I quickly made it my mission to find the nearest Special Olympics program director and get as involved as possible. I reached out to other students on campus who were involved and quickly made friendships. Eventually I found a group of students who had been previously involved in Special Olympics Youth Leadership Committees and we began working on getting Project UNIFY spread throughout high schools in the Tucson area.

The jump from high school to college can be easier than most say, you just need to remember to surround yourself with those that have your best interests at hand and enjoy the same activities as you. Involvement with Special Olympics should not end when you graduate high school, instead it should begin when you enter college.

Contact your area director and continue to be INVOLVED!

Leadership: From High School to College

As you step down from the podium with your high school diploma in hand, you find yourself in an interim stage between adolescence and adulthood.  You feel as though you have arrived at Platform 9 ¾, stuck between worlds and ready to be carted off to a place perhaps just as magical as Hogwarts: college. While settling in on campus, so many things will change, but you must always remember that you are still a leader.  Everything you learned in high school and all the experience you gained will not go to waste; it will form the foundation of your college leadership.

With every passing year, you are given more freedom at the cost of responsibility.  High school allows you to act as independently as you may while still living under your parents’ roof.  Most youth leadership in high school allows students to form their own plans and carry them out under the structured guidance and supervision of faculty.  During this period, youth seem to be given a leadership permit—the wheel is handed over to them, but the adults still have a brake pedal installed in the passenger side just in case.  This allows students to develop their leadership skills, while letting adults take care of the boring work of forms and finances.

Transitioning from being a leader in high school to a leader in college may seem like you’re hitting the ground running, but it’s not as drastic as it seems.  At its heart, leadership at all stages is about inspiring people.  It’s true, there won’t be as much hand-holding and at times it may feel like the system is working against you, but pushing through all of that will not only make a name for yourself on campus, but foster your leadership ability in a way that you never before had the chance to.  You will be expected to work more independently, but even at college, there is always someone to reach out to for help when needed.  It is essential that you find the right people who will help you along your way, but let you work through your trials on your own.  College can be the best years of your life, but unlike in some high schools, you must always be actively seeking out opportunities to seize.

A leader is someone who shapes their community, so as you enter the realm of higher education, shape yours so that you leave it as a better place than when you first arrived.