Updated: Aug 15, 2019
The following post was written by Kirsten, Special Olympics youth leader from Washington. Kirsten makes it her mission to strengthen inclusion in her community. Check out how she #innovateforinclusion!
My room is filled with pictures from our club meetings, Unified basketball games, and my friends and I having fun together — friends with and without intellectual disabilities. I have posters made by one of my best friends, Lexy, hanging on my wall. One of them says “Let’s go Zoie. You are my best friend. Have a great day.” I have a birthday card pinned on my cork board made by my friend Isabella. Isabella and Lexy are some of my best friends because of the time we have spent together at Unified Sports. My closet and dresser both have gear and clothing from my times at Unified Sports.
My favorite part of the day is free class period from 9:30am-10:10 am because this is when I hang out with my friends with intellectual disabilities. I also get to see them at our Unified meetings. When we hang out, we solve math problems together. I have built new friendships with our athletes and partners involved with Special Olympics.
The first thing I did when I was trying to start a Unified Club was attend a Youth Summit. Now, my club officers and I get to lead a Youth Summit and teach others what Unified Clubs are. We have come a long way and still have a long way to go. One of my most memorable experiences so far was an international youth video chat I got the chance to participate in. We were able to talk about our individual projects and the challenges we all faced. A lot of the challenges we faced were similar. It was pretty cool to hear that someone on the other side of the world was experiencing the same thing that I was. In addition to sharing our challenges, we were able to exchange ideas with each other.
I had no idea the effect Unified would have on me and my community when I first started the program. Unified has provided opportunities, created new friendships, brought change to my community, and showed me who I am. It has taught me acceptance. It has taught me what it means to be passionate about something. It has taught me to work hard for what I believe in. It has shown me the impact I can have on others. I believe in living Unified and I will bring it with me wherever I go to make an even bigger impact.
The 2018 Special Olympics Youth Innovation Grant initiative is supported through partnerships with Hasbro, Inc., The Samuel Family Foundation, the Office of Special Education Programs at the United States Department of Education, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and the Lions Clubs International Foundation. Learn more about these inspiring projects at SpecialOlympicsGlobalYouthProjects.org