Activation is our Name; Living Unified is our Game

A great year-end reflection on leadership, family and being on the National Youth Activation Committee from National YAC member Jamie Behymer. 

Even though the skies were cloudy, the spirits were high as the 2013-2014 National Youth Activation Committee met for the first time this past November. On the first day, everyone was bonding over breakfast and continuing conversations on a bus ride, leading to the most connected group of 20 youth leaders.

It was not until group sessions began that we realized we have more in common than a drive to promote social inclusion. Whether it is our passion to dance, or creative instinct, or our love of math, we all realized we are alike in some fashion.

IMG_0121Having to be awake and alert at 7:30 a.m. (Eastern Time) could seem daunting for some, especially those accustomed to Pacific Time, like myself. However, being surrounded by others that are excited and prepared to embark on a day’s journey is a profound experience and energized me for a day filled with activity. Working together in sessions to determine our goals for the year, then planning for the 2014 Special Olympics National Games, and finally finishing the day with a “homework party,” we were always together and never wanted to be apart.

Spending four days with these youth leaders was the highlight of my year. They not only encourage and support everyone in their aspirations, but also epitomize the nature of the human spirit. While our friends and community leaders know us as “agents of change,” we consider ourselves a YAC family, and once a family, always a family.

Words cannot describe how phenomenal these individuals are. 2014 is going to be an immaculate year and I am intrigued to see where our journey goes. With sub-committees focused on National Games, to Inclusive Youth Leadership, to State Mentorship, we are all dedicated to making an impact in society any way we can.

As 2013 draws to a close, I wanted to thank all of the members that made this term truly memorable. Working together on weekends to finalize resources, and texting during the week for updates on Project UNIFY® initiatives and life, we are always united.  Together, we will activate acceptance and inclusion as new social norms, and live unified in our endeavors. 



Being a Big Sister

The following guest blog comes from a volunteer with Special Olympics Missouri.

My name is Patricia. I’m a college student, intern, and executive board member of several on-campus organizations. But the thing I am, full time, with no exception is an older sister. I have two younger sisters and both of them are amazing. Hailey is 16 and interested in math and science more than anything on the face of the planet. She has told me that she wants to, one day, be a scientist in the field of stem cell research. My sister Harley is wonderfully creative, an artist, a caretaker, and one of the most loving people I have ever met in my entire life.

Harley has Autism. People have told her horrible things her entire life about herself, which are entirely untrue. I try to let her know that her Autism is something that makes her special, because it lets her look at people differently: with her whole heart. Many of the “faults” we see in people she completely overlooks because she sees them as kind, loving, and gorgeous individuals. Needless to say, having a sister who has affected my life so fully has had an impact on me. It’s made me see how beautiful all individuals are, how special.

When I went to college I started hearing about Special Olympics volunteering. It made me think how I could help, and how I can be a big sister to children who may not have someone to reach out to. Being involved in Special Olympics in Missouri has been such a rewarding experience, because I get to work with children whose happiness and excitement is contagious. I love being able to see all the smiles and getting all the hugs every time I volunteer.

I love being a big sister.

I am a Unified Partner

We continue this month’s focus on Unified Sports with a blog from Unified Partner (and National Youth Activation Committee member) Courtney Neil – she shares her personal story about the benefit of Unified Sports participation.

Like any kid, I was brought up in a world of sports that centered on winning, competition, and giving it your all, but something that set my sporting experiences apart from the rest is my participation with Special Olympics.

When I first tell people about my involvement with the group, it usually follows with a double take, or a question like “Oh, what problems do you have?” but I participate a little differently:

I am a Unified Partner. 

I have competed with Special Olympics for 11 years and absolutely love it. I compete alongside my older sister Alyssa who is much more than my teammate.  She’s my inspiration and my daily reminder to never take anything at face value.  Unified Sports have definitely helped me in that as well.

Unified Sports puts individuals with and without disabilities together on teams to compete in various sports.  It shows you that a person’s ability level has nothing to do with their ability to play a sport and do it well.  It teaches compassion and understanding in a way that can’t happen in any other atmosphere.  You and your teammates are working as a team to accomplish something, and like any other sports team, you build a positive relationship that’s unlike any other.  You learn to give people the chance to prove themselves without judging them right off the bat and learning to trust a person and their skills without reservations.

Being involved in such an amazing organization and just playing sports has opened up a world of opportunity for me.  I have been exposed to all different types of people that I may not have met otherwise and made real friendships that will withstand anything.  Unified Sports has brought me so much closer to my sister and really helped me understand her and where she’s coming from.

If we weren’t involved with our state Special Olympic Program, I know we wouldn’t be as close as we are right now, and we have Special Olympics to thank for that.