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.

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Thank You, Mrs. Shriver

The following is another reflection from Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day and Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play, written by Special Olympics Colorado youth leader Kaitlyn Smith.

Standing on the National Mall in Washington DC, I take a minute to step back and let it all soak in. All around me are children of all abilities smiling, playing sports, and having a great time playing together. The more I watch, the more I realize that this is it, this is Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision, and this is her victory!

On September 24th, I not only had the opportunity to celebrate Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s life in Washington DC, but I got to do so in conjunction with the Nickelodeon Worldwide Day of Play. All day I got to help and witness children with and without disabilities playing sports, and doing so with unity and respect for each other. Throughout the day I saw the amazing work of Eunice Kennedy Shriver having an impact on our world.

During the event, a woman came up to me and asked me who Eunice Kennedy Shriver was; however, that question is not one that could be answered easily. Yes, she is the woman that started the worldwide movement of Special Olympics from a summer camp in her backyard, but she did so much more than that… she changed the world. The more I attempted to answer her question, the more I started to realize that it is not something that can be answered in words.

When you have the opportunity to watch a basketball game that has individuals with and without disabilities playing together; that is thanks to Eunice Kennedy Shriver. When you see someone without a disability be friends with someone that has an intellectual disability; that is thanks to Eunice Kennedy Shriver. When you can see individuals with disabilities smile with success because they were given a chance; that is thanks to Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s life cannot be adequately explained in words. You need to see the smiles on the athlete’s faces, the strength in every kick, and the joy of every win. Mrs. Shriver’s life and legacy lives on through all of the athletes of Special Olympics.

It was such an honor to be able to be in Washington DC to celebrate the life of such an incredible lady. Mrs. Shriver has touched the lives of millions of athletes, and more to come. She went against all odds, touched the lives of a neglected population, and completely changed the mind-set of the world. Her life, legacy, and passion will live on forever.

Mrs. Shriver, a Legacy of Courage

The following blog post was written by Clint Armistead, former National Youth Activation Committee member and Peace Corps Volunteer.

What can I say about Mrs. Shriver that hasn’t already been said? Amazing, determined, strong, beautiful, joyous, courageous. When asked to write about Eunice Kennedy Shriver (aka EKS for those unfamiliar with the Special Olympics acronyms) for the Project UNIFY Blog, I felt daunted by the task of writing about this amazing woman and doing her justice.

However, I think we’ve all felt daunted at sometime in our life, like we see the world about to crumble and we can do nothing about it. The forebodingness of it all, like attempting the impossible, that life plays against us and wants us to fail. Whether we’re talking about the world economic crisis or finding a job or facing the undefeated football team or overcoming writer’s block trying to write a blog about Eunice Kennedy Shriver, we can all get overwhelmed with the pressure, the thought, the certainty of failure.

When I get to these points in life, and as a young adult entering the “real world” I find myself in this arena often, I like to repeat my favorite quote by Eunice Kennedy Shriver—it’s also the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” I find these words so simple and yet, so powerful, just like the woman who spoke them. I don’t know if Mrs. Shriver thought about this oath as much as I have but I know she lived it and I know she won.

Sometimes life boils down to courage. Do you have the strength and determination to wake up in the morning and fight the troubles of the day? From the worldwide battle against hunger to the schoolyard torment of a bully, each requires a great deal of fortitude (or guts). For Special Olympics athletes, coaches, volunteers, youth leaders and family members, EKS was an example of courage in action.

Around the world this Saturday, September 24, Special Olympics will celebrate the life and courage of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, without whom, millions of lives would remain unchanged. Amongst all her accomplishments, including founding Special Olympics, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, being named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year, papal knighthood and even having her face on a U.S. coin, her greatest accomplishment is inspiring others. She inspires Special Olympics athletes to compete to the best of their abilities on the field, in the classroom, at home and in the workplace. She inspires small non-profits and advocates for social change. She inspires anyone with a dream. She inspires me.

So celebrate with us this year, if you’re in or around Washington, D.C., and join us in front of the White House as part of the Nickelodeon Day of Play. From around the world, you can celebrate in one simple way: do something courageous. Play with the kid down the street who everyone else thinks is weird. Build a sports complex for Unified Sports competition or start a Camp Shriver afterschool program.

Join organizations and volunteers who share in the same vision of an accepting world for all people regardless of differences and become the Eunice Kennedy Shriver of our generation. Celebrate Special Olympics, celebrate the inspiration, celebrate Mrs. Shriver, and celebrate the courage to face the daunting challenges of the day.

Special Olympics Celebrates Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day & Worldwide Day of Play

This Saturday, September 24th is the 2nd Annual Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day (aka EKS Day), which honors the amazing and inspirational founder of Special Olympics. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a trail blazing leader who broke down barriers to improve the lives of millions of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Each year on the 4th Saturday in September events of unity and acceptance around the world will celebrate the vision, commitment and achievements of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her tradition of making a difference. The theme for this year’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day is Play Unified to Live Unified.

Learn more about Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

This year we’re commemorating the amazing impact of Eunice Kennedy Shriver by partnering with Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play and CELEBRATING AN ENTIRE DAY DEDICATED TO ACTIVE PLAY!!

You and your family are invited to Washington, DC for a day
of family-friendly activities, sports & entertainment!

Saturday September 24, 2011
10 am – 4 pm
The Ellipse at the National Mall

Since we love to play (especially when we play UNIFIED), we’ll be at The Ellipse on The National Mall in Washington, DC all-day hosting a Unity Dance Party, demonstrating the amazing skills of our Special Olympics athletes in floor hockey and tennis and remembering the impact of Special Olympics’ founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Need another reason to come? Check out this fun video featuring some of Nick’s biggest stars and a certain First Lady! They’ll be there, so come join in the fun! (Plus, some big sports stars, like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Abby Wambach and Damien Woody, will be there, so you won’t want to miss it!)

So if you’re in the Washington, DC area on September 24, grab your friends and family and head to the National Mall for a fun-filled day of play! Plus, stop by the Special Olympics Project UNIFY tent and mention you read this blog post and we’ll give you a SWEET Project UNIFY prize!

Don’t fret if you’re not in the DC area – there are still tons of ways to get involved with Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day and Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play:

Today I’m playing unified to live unified in celebration of Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day and Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play. Join me, be a fan of @Special Olympics and let’s get out and play! http://www.eksday.org

Inclusion: A Necessity for Fully Engaged Students

The following blog post was written by a unified pair of youth leaders who participate in local and national youth engagement and activation conferences to enhance their communication, leadership, and advocacy skills.  These youth continue to collaborate and motivate other youth to become active in our pathway towards social justice for all. 

Looking at the aspects that create schools where students are able to express their ideas, engage in meaningful leadership opportunities, and develop a collaborative relationship with the staff to address the needs of both students and teachers is challenging, yet important.  One word that is indirectly included in each of those aspects is inclusion.  Inclusion can be defined in many ways each catering to a certain situation.  However, there are common characteristics that we can define as being inclusive: students of all abilities, religions, gender and race are offered equitable opportunities for academic, social and physical growth; students perceive their peers as valued individuals with unique assets to the school community; everyone is included in the schools’ student body, regardless of popularity, athletic ability or academic achievement.

Perspective from a youth leader with an intellectual disability:
There are many experiences of authentic inclusion at our schools.  When I attended High School, I wanted to join an afterschool club.  One of the clubs I was interested in was the Drama Club because I like to act.  I asked the teacher, Mr. Pody, if I could join and he said yes!  The Drama Club met once a week and we did acting exercises as well as performances.  We also put on a big show at in the spring and the entire school attended.  Mr. Pody gave me a good acting part in the show and showcased my abilities.  I played a big supporting role and I opened the show with a monologue too.

Being a part of a club made me feel included and a true participant in the school life.  It gave me something to look forward to every week!  My Drama Club friends would say hi to me in the hallways and it was a great feeling.  I think that if it were not for the Drama teacher, Mr. Pody, I would not have been able to be a part of itMr. Pody believed I could do it and he did not exclude me because of my disability.  By including me, he gave me one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Another example of inclusion was when I joined a Special Needs cheerleading team.  Many high school students volunteered to help with practice every Sunday.  One of these high school students was Kaitlin and she became my good friend.  Kaitlin was very helpful and really believed that everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.  Bringing together young people with and without disabilities allowed us to spend time together and gain understanding of one another.

Sometimes people are afraid to be near people who are different, but once they see that we are just people, they can understand that there’s no reason to be afraid.  Kaitlin saw that I was a teenager just like herself, and we had a lot in common.  We laughed, told jokes, and shared secrets.  We are still good friends today.  Kaitlin is now a youth leader in her high school and has been inspired to join Special Olympics Project UNIFY®.

Based on our personal experiences, below is a list for how others can work towards authentic inclusion in their school:

  • Implementation of a Special Olympics Project UNIFY® Club, which works to educate, motivate and activate young people to become agents of positive change.
  • Organization of a Spread the Word to End the Word Event to raise awareness about the derogatory use of the word, “retard” and its hurtful impact on people with disabilities.
  • Education about the history of the disability movement will show students the individuals who have made strides in this movement of acceptance, like Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
  • Coordinate a “Fans in the Stands” Event at a local Special Olympics competition.