Project UNIFY is About People

The following post is from Kara Fleming, an intern with Project UNIFY who spent her summer focused on the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.

There I was, fresh out of high school, vying for an internship in Washington, D.C., as an incoming college freshmen from middle-of-nowhere, Idaho. The odds were stacked but someone must have seen something in me they liked, because before I knew it, I was an intern for Special Olympics International.

It ended up being more than I ever could’ve dreamed. The city itself was amazing, and having the job in the first place was incredible, but it wasn’t until the last day that I finally put my finger on what made this summer so amazing.

It was the people.

  • People like my bosses who took a leap of faith and believed that a young girl from Idaho could succeed working for an international organization in a huge city;
  • People like my co-workers around the office who respectfully treated me and the other interns as colleagues worthy of respect, instead of just obnoxious college kids;
  • People like the Wright Family, who poured their hearts (and musical talents) into the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign for the sake of inclusion for all;
  • People like Ben and Terrel, athletes that work in the office, who break down stereotypes and barriers by their amazing work ethic and smiles that they freely give to everyone they meet;
  • And, people like my roommates, who despite our radical differences in personality, philosophies, and geographical location, strove to include me and truly turn our group of interns into a family.

All these people truly embody the mission of Special Olympics and Project UNIFY. I learned more from watching this amazing group for two months than I ever could’ve if I’d had the same internship at another office. I learned that first and foremost, it is people like this who make Special Olympics what it is, and it is by focusing on them that the organization is able to have such an amazing impact. Every decision is made with people in mind. How can we make it a better experience for our athletes? How are we promoting respect, dignity, and inclusion? How are we creating an inclusive environment everywhere from the workplace to the playing field to the streets of cities across the world?

These people are just a sample of the people involved in the movement. There are many more like them, but these in particular are the ones who poured their time and energy into making me feel like a part of the Special Olympics staff, even if it was just for a summer. They are the reason why I will never forget this internship and why I can’t wait to continue being involved in Special Olympics.

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Jumping Off A Bridge

Written by Evan Heller, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Finance Intern, Summer 2012

When I first came to D.C. to begin my internship with Special Olympics Project UNIFY, I thought this summer would be the bridge that would take me over the tumultuous waters of indecision and ground me safely on a professional track. I look back now and realize the reason I have grown so much in the past month is because I stopped thinking of this summer as a bridge; I started thinking of it as a diving board.

I decided I didn’t want to walk across the bridge and at the end have nothing more to show for it than another item on my résumé. There is a difference between making an appearance and making a difference, and I wanted to leave my mark: so I jumped. As I fell, I saw that the water—which from afar looked murky and unsafe—was actually a golden sea of opportunities. I found that there is so much this city, and especially this organization, has to offer, and all I had to do was be ready and seize every chance that came my way.

I got paired with a great mentor who constantly found ways to make sure I would leave this summer equipped with the tools I needed to succeed. He and all the other staff that I worked with were not only receptive to my ideas, but willing to help me bring them to fruition. That support spoke volumes about the trust that Special Olympics invested in my work, and I wanted to prove that their trust wasn’t wasted on me. Too many people stop at what’s expected of them; I was determined to exceed all expectations.

It wasn’t always easy—I had to work hard and at times step out of my comfort-zone. I learned that I not only had to make the necessary connections, but sometimes ask outright whether I could be involved in a project with which I was interested. I also gained a technical proficiency in several new areas. But by making these leaps, I was able to get my feet wet in many different aspects of Special Olympics, and began to develop all these opportunistic skills.

I am so grateful for the all the opportunities I had this summer. I was able to volunteer at Camp PALS, speak at the National Student Council Association conference, advocate on Capitol Hill, be a panelist on the What You Do Matters Leadership Summit student panel, attend the CRPD Senate Hearing, and observe UMass Boston’s Camp Shriver. I have been able to make so many long-lasting connections with people, as professionals and as friends, and I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.