The following post was written by Patrick and Zack, two Special Olympics youth leaders from Illinois. The pair make it their mission to strengthen inclusion in their community. Check out how they #innovateforinclusion!
Our experience with the project began strong and continued that way throughout. The trip to Azerbaijan gave us a lot of inspiration and confidence to enact change in both our community and state. Conversing with other leaders from around the world gave us new ideas on how to reach out to both students with and without intellectual disabilities.
Zack and I then transcribed these new ideas and molded them into our project proposal, which was approved by Special Olympics. Now, with the funds necessary to make our dream a reality, we assembled a team from our school to grind out the details of the event that was going to involve hopefully over two hundred people. We exceeded our goal of two hundred. Our Unified Sports Day included ten schools and over four hundred participants/volunteers. Our team worked almost weekly during the late winter and spring to develop stations, allocate equipment, ask for donations, design t-shirts, and so much more. Zack really enjoyed the process and said it was something new and exciting to see evolve at our own high school. From here, we hope to see our dreams of creating a #Unified618 turn into a reality.
The day of the event was truly more amazing than I could have hoped for. Everyone was in Special Olympics red with our freshly-printed shirts, enjoying the beautiful weather and endless activities. People were establishing and strengthening bonds over shared athletic endeavors. This was what Special Olympics had been so heavily stressing at the global forum. Sports are a powerful means of unification. Without the grant, half of our schools wouldn’t have been able to venture out to the event. Without the grant, we would not have had nearly enough sports equipment. Everyone involved on the day benefitted in some way. Several students learned what it meant to play Unified, and an equal amount became hungry for more of these opportunities.
Being located in southern Illinois comes with its challenges. Many of the established Special Olympics programs are based up north, and the journeys to compete are long and tiresome. While we love traveling and meeting new people, we also love having our community here at home see what we can accomplish in the world of athletics. We want our classmates and peers to come to matches, games, and exhibitions. This is all a possibility now because of this project. All ten schools in attendance expressed an interest in being more active in Special Olympics. With new schools to compete against closer to home, our mission of unifying our region through sports is one step closer to completion. We are very thankful to Special Olympics for assisting us in making this step.
The 2018 Special Olympics Youth Innovation Grant initiative is supported through partnerships with Hasbro, Inc., The Samuel Family Foundation, theOffice 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 atSpecialOlympicsGlobalYouthProjects.org.