Spreading the Word

Special Olympics, Ending the R-word, Getting Involved

Thank You, Mom

Maria Shriver was a special guest on the Today Show this morning and talked about Expressing Motherhood, the documentary style play performed by mothers who get up on stage and share their stories.

One of the mothers said Expressing Motherhood is so great because it lets other moms out there know that they are not alone and that there is someone out there who is going through the same thing.

“It’s comforting to know that they are out there to share their stories and to help us,” said one woman who became involved in the cast after seeing a performance.

Maria Shriver has recently teamed up with the company P&G to help promote their campaign, Thank You, Mom. Maria’s mother, Eunice founded Special Olympics in the 1960’s. Her sister, Rosemary, had an intellectual disability and she  began to notice that people like Rosemary were treated differently than the other kids.

Eunice started Camp Shriver in her own backyard in 1962 and Special Olympics not long after. She realized that struggle that moms of children with disabilities went through and wanted to help. Eunice’s vision was to create a place where people with intellectual disabilities were not treated differently and she saw sports as the perfect opportunity.

Sports are something that everyone can enjoy and Special Olympics strives to make this inclusion a reality.

P&G’s Thank You, Mom campaign is dedicated to Maria and Eunice. In an effort to support Moms like Eunice, P&G made a video called “The Gift My Mother Gave Me” and for every share that the video gets on Facebook, P&G will donate $1 to Special Olympics.

Check out this inspirational video about a dedicated mom who helped support all moms in her fight for inclusion.

“The gift my mother gave me was he gift of possibility.”

                                                                                                        -Maria Shriver

To share this video and help support Special Olympics, visit P&G’s Thank You, Mom Facebook page.

Check out the Special Olympics blog post here.

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Unified Winter Ball

After three years of running the MetroWest Special Olympics at FSU we obviously want to make every year bigger and better than the last. One of the girls on my team mentioned hosting a prom with the Special Olympics athletes.

I took her idea and I made a few adjustments to make it a Unified Winter Ball because prom season is too close to the end of the year and we want to promote Special Olympics which takes place at the end if April.

Through Special Olympics I have realized that there are so many people at this school who really care about about the Special Olympics athletes and are just so amazing with them every single year. So I thought, why wait until the end of April to have fun with such amazing people?

So, my plan for next semester is to host a unified Winter Ball at  FSU with high schools in the MetroWest area and their Special Education classes. We would set it up so that everyone would meet and get together somehow and the boys in the Special Education classes would go to the Ball with girls from FSU and the girls in the Special Education Classes will go with the boys at FSU.

I think this would get a lot of attention and I think the students at FSU will be more than willing to take part in it. This event will not only be a one-time dance, it’s sure to build friendships that will last for years.

That being said, I am looking for ideas, tips and feedback on this event idea. For anyone who reads this – please comment below or email me at cristinaarrene@gmail.com with any advice. I really want this program to be successful so any insight will be greatly appreciated!


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Kamisha’s perspective on the R-word

Remember how I told you that I still keep in touch with many of the people I have met in the Special Education classes at Malden High. Well, Kamisha is one of them. She is one of my good friends and we keep in touch throughout the year through Facebook and some texting.

Kamisha is probably one of the sweetest people I have ever met. She is motivated and kind and is always willing to lend a hand. Kamisha works in a number of offices in the school. She helps out in the athletic office and gets mail for teachers, files papers when needed in the main office and she is the manager for the Varsity Girls’ Basketball team.

She is fearless and knows that even though she may have to overcome more obstacles than the rest of us – there is nothing she can’t do if she puts her mind to it.

I told Kamisha about my blog and she was so excited! She immediately offered to help me in any way that she could. I told her that I was going to write some posts about the R-word and asked her to make a video for me about how the R-word makes her feel.

I hope that after hearing how the R-word affects Kamisha, those of you who use the word will stop and those of you who don’t will help Spread the Word to End the Word.

Kamisha from Cristina Valente on Vimeo.

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Interview with a volunteer

You all know by now that I love Special Olympics and all that it stands for. But what you don’t know is that this passion runs in the family. My sister, Elyse, is a senior at Malden High School and has been involved in the Malden Special Olympics since her freshman year and also is heavily involved in Unified Sports.

Unified Sports is a great program at Malden High School. It takes place 3 to 4 times a week depending on the day’s class rotation schedule. During a certain class period, the Special Education classes (PACE Program) go down to the gym and have an hour or so of recreational activities. There are student volunteers from across the school who give up their studies or free periods to essentially take gym class with the PACE Program.

They have warm-ups lead by the captain of the football team. They have races and play games such as kickball, wiffleball, soccer and basketball.

All of the volunteers have a blast and as Elyse mentioned – they build so many friendships.

Unified Sports is a truly amazing program because it makes students with disabilities feel like they are no different from any of the other varsity athletes in the school.

I sat down with Elyse to talk about her experience with Unified Sports. Listen to our conversation below.

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Spread the Word to End the Word Awareness

This year, I put a lot of time and effort into bringing the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign to Framingham State because I am very passionate about the issue. Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen circumstances, the event could not happen this year – but mark my words, it WILL be here next year!

Spread the Word to End the Word is a national campaign in partnership with Special Olympics and Best Buddies. Its mission is to make people aware of the many negative connotations that come with saying the word “Retard” or “Retarded.”

Every time I hear someone say it I want to correct them and most of the time I do. However, if I don’t really know the person, it makes it a little more difficult. Ryan has a sister who was born with a form of Turner’s Syndrome and he takes great offense to the R-word out of respect for his sister.

“Just about every time I hear someone say it, I immediately correct them. There are times when I will let it pass because I don’t feel like dealing with the questions and statements that are inevitably going to follow,” said Ryan.

Like most of us, Ryan has encountered people who just don’t understand. They will say things like, “I didn’t mean it like that” or “you have no reason to be offended.” One way to deal with this is just walk away and say, “I tried” or you can handle it they way Ryan does when he says, “my sister hates the word, and takes offense to it.” Once people realize that you have friends or family members with an intellectual disability, they are more likely to respect you not wanting that word to be used.

Although we would love to completely eliminate the use of the R-word, some people just aren’t willing to give it up. But it is not impossible. When I was a freshman in college and was meeting my roommate for the first time we were just getting to know each other and talking about what we like to do. I mentioned I was a huge advocate for Special Olympics and that my biggest pet peeve was when people say the R-word. I told her why I and so many other people take offense to it and she said, “I never thought of it that way, I use it sometimes but I’m going to stop. If you catch me saying it, just remind me.”

That’s what I did for the first few weeks of school. Every time she said “That’s retarded” I would remind her and said “Find another word.” It took some time but now she is even telling people not to use the R-word. Making a difference is not impossible. It just takes a little bit of time.

When people say the R-word, they are essentially referring to something that is unattractive or unacceptable. People with intellectual disabilities take great offense to this. “My sister is is easily the hardest working person I have ever met, and the word “retarded” or “retard” is almost always associated with doing something stupid or saying something stupid. I’ve seen how it directly affects my sister,” said Ryan.

I have a friend named Kamisha. She has cerebral palsy. But she does not let that stop her. She is one of the most well known girls at Malden High School. She helps out in almost every office in the school, manages the Varsity Girls’ Basketball team and is easily the friendliest person in the school.

A few years ago, during my senior year, we had a Spread the Word to End the Word rally. Most people are afraid to speak in front of a large group of people but not Kamisha. She wrote her own speech, got up on stage in front of 75-100 people and spoke about how the R-word personally affects her. She said it makes her feel unimportant and unintelligent. It makes her feel beneath everyone else and everyone who knows her, knows for a fact that this is not true. However, these are the negative associations that come with the R-word. People need to educate themselves about the use of the R-word and realize that it is hurtful and shouldn’t be said.

“It is not socially acceptable to go around saying the N word or using any other racial term, therefore I think it should be the same with the R word. They are all extremely offensive,” said Ryan.

It’s great to know that there are people out there like Ryan who advocate against the R-word. Another person who is involved in Special Olympics and the R-word campaign is Alyssa. Alyssa has been one of the track directors at the FSU Special Olympics for the past 2 years, she has helped me with the Spread the Word campaign at FSU and has also made Spread the Word to End the Word buttons to raise money for Special Olympics.


Spread the Word 2013 Buttons


Banner signed by FSU students for Spread the Word 2012

I sat down with Alyssa and we talked about the R-word campaign and how she is involved. Listen to our conversation below!

The world needs more people like Ryan and Alyssa. But if we all work together and don’t give up, we can make a difference!

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/65313070″>socialmediaproject2</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user17824671″>Cristina Valente</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

To pledge to stop using the R-word and to learn more about the campaign, visit www.r-word.org. TAKE THE PLEDGE TODAY AND SPREAD THE WORD!

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URI Hosts 6th Annual Autism Awareness Day

This past Saturday, April 20th, the University of Rhode Island hosted their 6th Annual Autism Awareness Day during a double header against Temple University.

This year, URI’s Run the Bases for Autism sponsored Joey’s Fund as part of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. Joey’s Fund is set up in memory of Josephine Grace Gay, a 7 year old who was tragically killed in the Sandy Hook shootings earlier this year. Joey was autistic and severely apraxic, meaning she could not speak. But, according to friends, family and people who knew her – that didn’t matter. Joey touched the lives of so many people. She was a warm hearted girl with a wonderful sense of humor and loved playing with her sisters.

This year, URI supported Joey’s Fund. Admission to the game was free and kids could participate in a number of games and activities before and during the game. There was a bouncy house, face painting, wiffleball, kickball and so much more. After the game, kids had the chance to run the bases with the URI baseball players. There were raffles and silent auctions that all helped raise money for Joey’s Fund.

Video Credit: RhodeIslandRams

It looked like such a fun day for everyone involved and I’m sure Joey would have loved it!

On another good note – the URI Rams defeated Temple University 3-1.

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One Step Closer

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have an announcement to make! We are one step closer to ending the R-word! Last week, Florida passed a bill that would eliminate the use of the term “mental retardation” from all state laws and replace it with the term “intellectually disabled.”

By a unanimous house vote, Florida has now joined 43 other states who have also eliminated the outdated term.

“Sometimes the most simple of bills can be the most monumental,’’ said Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach.

Moira Rossi, from Jacksonville, Florida has Down Syndrome and says the term “mentally retarded” makes her feel sad. Moira helped lead a group of supporters to pass the legislation at Florida’s state Capitol. Supporters say that the term is outdated and has gained negative stereotypes – which is in fact true.

Saying someone is “mentally retarded” even in medical terms still has negative connotation in everyday language. Along with the 43 states that have already eliminated the term from their state laws, President Obama ended its use in Federal law back in 2010.

Our biggest step now, is working towards ending the R-word in everyday speech.

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7 Facts About Autism

Hi everyone! As you saw in my last post – April is Autism Awareness Month, so what better way to spread the word than to educate people!

Here are 7 facts that you may not know about Autism (I learned a few things too!)

1. Autism now affects 1 in 88 children and 1.5 million individuals in the United States

2. Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.

3. Autism costs a family $60,000 a year, on average

4. Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding for childhood diseases

5. Boys are nearly five times more likely to have Autism than girls – Boys: 1 in 54, Girls: 1 in 252

6. In a study conducted at the Institute of Education in London it was found that 28% of people with Autism have an IQ between 85 and 115 (average) while 3% of people have an IQ of 115 or higher (above average)

7. While there is no cure for Autism, many children and adults can greatly benefit from Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) as well as occupational, speech and physical therapy.

Don’t wait for April to come around before you think about those with Autism and their families. Stay tuned for my next blog about ways to donate to Autism research.

Most importantly, don’t just practice awareness….practice ACCEPTANCE!

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Autism Awareness Day

We all know that Monday was April Fool’s Day but what you are about to read is no joke. On Monday April 1, 2013 the White House issued a press release announcing a Presidential Proclamation.

President Barack Obama said,

“Today, public health officials estimate that 1 in every 88 children in America is growing up on the autism spectrum. It is a reality that affects millions of families every day, from the classroom to the job market. And while our country has made progress in supporting Americans with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), we are only beginning to understand the factors behind the challenges they face. On World Autism Awareness Day, we recommit to helping individuals on the autism spectrum reach their full potential…NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 2, 2013, as World Autism Awareness Day. I encourage all Americans to learn more about autism and what they can do to support individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.”

You all read my story about my friend Joe, so you know that he is the building block to my passion for Special Olympics and all that I do.

I am happy to finally say that we have reached a point in society where we can actually move forward and make a difference right here at home.

So, you heard Mr. President – learn something new about Autism today and do something to make a difference in the lives of those living with Autism.

As always, keep spreading the word!

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Teacher for a Day

As a journalism minor I have to take a Feature Writing class and one of my assignments is to write a self-involvement article  about something I have always wanted to do. As I sat in class trying to think of something that I have never done and could write an article on – the usual “bucket list” ideas came to mind: skydiving, competing in a triathlon, going on a safari. But they I thought, “What could I do that I know I will enjoy and be able to help someone else?” The answer was a no-brainer. I decided to be a special education teacher for a day.

I got in touch with one of the teachers at my high school and spent the day in the post-secondary special education class. The students in this class were between the ages of 17 and 22 and getting ready to leave school to go onto work programs. I learned that most of the students were not born with their disabilities and that many of them are living with traumatic brain injuries.

The teacher said she uses a method called “decontamination through humor” if anyone ever gets upset or a topic gets to heavy to handle – they make a joke and lighten the mood.

The classroom is like a therapy session, the teacher told me. “What is said in here stays in here.”

During a speech session, we talked about the way we are treated and how it makes us feel when people push us away or ignore us. One of the students became overwhelmed with past experiences so immediately, one of the teachers played LMFAO’s “I’m Sexy and I Know It.” Everyone jumped up out of their seats and started showing off their dance moves. It was just the kind of break we needed so everyone had a chance to unwind from such a heavy topic.

The class curriculum focuses mostly on life skill development, listening skills, how to follow directions, how to communicate with others and how to treat each other.

One of the lessons that day was, treat everyone with respect. It was a conversation that everyone today should have heard. We talked about how to act towards someone you may not particularly like – you have to be nice and respectful anyway.

I never thought that I would learn so much in one day. It was one of the most rewarding days of my life. All of the students were wonderful – they were sweet, funny and had such uplifting personalities. My day in that classroom has made me re-think my future. I even contemplated changing my major and career path but I have decided to get even more involved in Special Olympics instead – maybe as a coach.

There are so many stories that I could tell but I just don’t have the space to do so. But what I can say is, spending the day with these 15 students made me look at life in a whole new light. They have changed me for the better.

Lloyd, Danny, KorinaAyoub, Dennis




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Special Olympics, Ending the R-word, Getting Involved

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