Innovators of the Week: Natalie and Megan

Updated: Jun 11, 2019

The following post was written by Natalie and Megan, two Special Olympics youth leaders from Washington, USA. The pair make it their mission to use summer camp programming to strengthen inclusion in their school and community. Check out how they #innovateforinclusion!

Over 7 weeks this past summer, we led a summer camp that brought together 55 volunteers and 17 participants. Every Friday we hosted themed days that brought together people with and without disabilities over the summer months by getting outdoors. All with the goal of expanding Unified Programs. Some of the theme days included, Jump-Into-Summer, Painting Day, Sports Day, Movie and Games, Science Day, and a Scavenger Hunt. The themes that were the most popular included the Science and Sports Days. At each event, we ran rotations that worked on fine and gross motors skills in order to make sure everyone was involved. Through our Youth Innovation Grant, we were able to accomplish great feats in Unifying Olympia, Washington, USA.

To start, we were able to create a foundation for the summer camp by purchasing materials for our Unified Club. Our high school has a well-establish Unified Club and now three sports teams — including newly added Unified Cheer. With this grant, we were able to create Unified Olympia banners displayed outside our school, Unified Olympia stickers, and a Unified wall. All on display for our community to see. Our Unified programs were able to spread through social media and is now used to spread our message beyond our summer camp. We have been able to provide resources that show Unified and give it a foundation in Olympia.

This foundation is supporting the growth of Unified Programs in our school district. Last year, our high school, was the only school to have Unified Programs in the district. From our school, we had many school sports teams come to our events and support our participants, with and without intellectual disabilities. By attending our Unified games, our high school cheer team began a Unified Cheer team. In addition to this, we also saw an impact from our Unified Camp around the school district. After having people with and without intellectual disabilities attend our Unified Camp over the summer, there is now a Unified Club and Unified basketball team at a local middle school. While we were hoping for more concrete outcomes in many schools, we believe that through our camp and Unified Olympia programs, we will see many more programs begin.

This is all due to the Youth Leaders and dedicated adults that are learning about the importance of being Unified. After our first week of camp, Youth Leaders from schools around the district began leading the camp rotations. Our camp rotations went very smoothly, and people of all abilities were able to participate. The support that our volunteers, with and without intellectual disabilities gave to our participants was amazing. There was so much joy and enthusiasm surrounding the camp. People without intellectual disabilities began to learn more about their peers with intellectual disabilities for the first time. One participant stated,“I learned how to love people with disabilities.” With another participant stating, “I was brought out of my shell.”

With the support of this grant, Unified Olympia is making a larger change for our community and this is only the beginning. However, when it comes down to change, we believe that the largest change is coming on a personal level. By participating in camp during the summer months and Unified programming through the school year, each individual with a intellectual disability has been able to high-five many new people in the hallways and excel in the classroom. Each person without a intellectual disability has had the opportunity to make many new friends of all abilities and take these experiences into the future. We cannot wait to see how this summer and project will continue to make our community more Unified.

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