Spreading the Word

Special Olympics, Ending the R-word, Getting Involved

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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Special Education at Malden High

I’ve mentioned a lot about Malden High School in my previous blog posts but that is because I have so many connections. I graduated from Malden High in 2010, my sister will graduate in June and my brother is currently a sophomore there. In addition, my mom works at Malden High and I have made many friends there in the PACE Program (Special Education Classes) who I still keep in touch with today.

The PACE Program does a lot to help their students build the right motor and life skills to succeed after graduation. One of my previous blogs talks about my experience teaching in a PACE classroom and some of the life skills that they practice. You can find that blog post here.

Their main goal in the PACE program, like I said, is getting the students ready for life after graduation. Several times a week, the older students go to work at New England Coffee in Malden for a few hours.

They also work as “waiters” at Malden High. Every Thursday, Mrs. Freeman, one of the PACE teachers sends out an email to the entire school asking if anyone would like to order breakfast on Friday morning. Then, whoever replies gets a visit from a PACE student on Friday morning.

Each student goes to  a teacher or faculty member with their pen and paper in hand and takes their breakfast and/or coffee order and goes to pick it up at the Tornado Cafe (Malden High’s breakfast cafe). The students then deliver the food and the faculty pays them and gives them a tip. All of their tips go toward their weekly outings.

I think the Malden High Pace Program does an excellent job of getting the students ready for life after high school and an even better job at promoting acceptance and inclusion throughout the entire community

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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.

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Spread the Word 2013 Buttons

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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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Special Olympics at FSU

As I mentioned in my last post, Framingham State University hosted the 3rd annual MetroWest Special Olympics on Friday April 26th. As the Event Director, most of my work was done before the games took place.  However, the best part of my job is getting to see all of the athletes compete in their events and have such an amazing day!

There was so much going on. First, the athletes warmed up to Rocky along side FSU’s mascot, Sam the Ram followed by the parade of athletes. After the parade, there were a couple of opening remarks, a performance by the FSU Dance Team a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem by a Marlborough athlete and finally, the oaths.

When I spoke during the opening ceremonies, I was speaking to the athletes but I had a lesson for  all of the volunteers and spectators as well.  I told the athletes that they were an inspiration to everyone – showing us that nothing is impossible and if you put your mind to it and believe in yourself then you will succeed. Also, the greatest thing that these athletes have taught me is – no matter what the outcome, finish everything you do with a smile.

Special Olympics is my favorite time of the year. I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they finish a race and run into a coach’s or volunteer’s arms for a giant hug at the finish line. I love when they hear their name called for a medal and they jump up out of their seats and scream, “That’s me!” And, then when they step onto the podium and a volunteer places a medal around their neck and their smile is a mile wide as they throw their arms up in the air.

I also love seeing how the volunteers interact with the athletes. It’s like a sight I’ve never seen. There are some people who you would never expect be be so great with these kids – but they are unbelievable! It goes to show you just how much these kids have to offer and they literally do bring out the best in people.

Check out some pictures from this years’ Special Olympics!

Our fundraising team raffled off a donated Vince Wilfork autographed football and sold Spread the Word to End the Word pins – made by one of our volunteers – In total, we raised over $400 for Special Olympics!

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Sam the Ram greeted the athletes as they arrived at the field

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Let the Games Begin!

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Athletes enjoyed activities, coloring, airbrush tattoos and Magic tricks at Olympic Town!

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Athletes celebrated at awards!

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Everyone had a great day!

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Some of the volunteers after the games!

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Event Director – Cristina, Volunteer Coordinator – Samantha, FSU Outreach and Volunteer Staff – Kendra, Event Director – Michaela

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SOMA Staff and FSU Event Directors

Kendra, Matt, Eric, Andrew, Michaela, Samantha & Cristina

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Planning a Special Olympics Event

Hi Everyone! Most of you don’t know this about me but for the past two years, I have coordinated the MetroWest Special Olympics at Framingham State University. As a student at FSU, running an event of this caliber can be extrememly stressful. Luckily, I had a group of 30 student leaders who all were a huge help!

Each student took on a different responsibility from fundraising to track and field directors to volunteer coordinators. For the first time, I also worked side-by-side with a co-event director. Having her to work with was a huge help this year because we got to split the work in half so neither one of us was too overwhelmed.

Our fundraising team was amazing this year! We raised over $400 in under 2 months! The money raised will go directly towards Special Olympics Massachusetts to help defer the cost of hosting the games.

Track and Field directors took care of everything that had to do with events on the day of. They signed up for specific events, such as track, shot put, softball throw and long jump and were trained on each of their roles beforehand. This way, there was someone at every station who knew what they were doing so they could train their day-of volunteers.

As event directors, Michaela and I planned who would do what, we were the main contact between the student leaders and Special Olympics MA, we handled everything at the facility, coordinated programs to promote the day games and basically kept everyone on track.

Organizing this event was a lot of work but it was worth every minute of it! All of the athletes were so happy to be there, I didn’t stop smiling the whole day and it was single-handedly one of the greatest days of my life. At one point, I was so stressed that I wanted it to be over but as I was walking across the field, seeing athletes give giant hugs to coaches, parents and volunteers at the finish line, I realized that I didn’t want the day to be over.

I’m so grateful that I got to be a part of something so great and I am forever thankful for my volunteers, the coaches, parents and most of all – the athletes – for making it a day I will never forget!

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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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Boston Marathon: A Nation Coming Together

I know I usually focus on Special Olympics and ending the R-word but I thought I would step back today and focus on the bigger picture of what happened in my own back yard.

As most of you probably heard, there were two bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday. Three have died and hundreds more are injured. Something horrible has happened to our Nation on a day when people from around the country and around the word come together to complete one grueling task.

It truly saddens me and terrifies me that someone could do this to hundreds of innocent people. But, what gives me a sense of hope is all of those who jumped into help the injured and those who have opened their homes to people without a place to stay.

In a way, this does go along with my message. On Monday, it didn’t matter who you were, where you were from, how many miles or how fast you ran – if you were hurt or needed help – you received it. Everyone in the crowd put their personal differences aside to help each other and that’s what Spreading the Word is about.

Special Olympics is all about different people coming together for one reason. People with different levels of disabilities, coaches, teachers and volunteers all gather for one goal: to try your hardest and have fun doing it.

The Special Olympics oath is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” The men and women who jumped into action on Monday showed the utmost bravery.

If Monday’s events have taught us anything, it’s that we need to remember that at the end of the day, we are all people and we need to care for others as we care for ourselves. We need to put others first sometimes and not just in times of crisis and distress. We need to believe that if we act with the outpouring of kindness that was seen on Monday, everyday – the world may be a better place and tragic events like this may not happen.

In the last 24 hours, the entire Nation has come together. Even our arch rivals, the New York Yankees, are standing by Boston during this difficult time. Last night during their game against the Diamondbacks, the Yankees played Sweet Caroline – a tradition near an dear to Boston. A sign was also displayed at the entrance to Yankee Stadium

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

It’s nice to see a Nation come together to support each other, but it needs to happen on a daily basis, not just when something terrible happens. So, I ask you to pray for Boston in our time of need but also, pray for each other everyday. Don’t blame others for your mistakes, don’t judge others, accept others for their differences and help each other in times of need.

 

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Red Sox Stand Up for Autism

MLB Autism

Today was a great day to watch baseball. It’s April 15th, meaning every player in the MLB wore the number 42 to honor Jackie Robinson who made his major league debut on April 15, 1947 and forever broke the color barrier. It was also announced today that former Red Sox pitcher, Tim Wakefield, was named honorary chairman of the Red Sox Foundation.

These weren’t the only exciting things taking place at Fenway this afternoon. While Wakefield was spending time with Jerry and Don he mentioned that the Red Sox Foundation and the Jimmy Fund were focusing more on Autism this year.

On April 2nd, Fenway Park was lit up blue for Autism Awareness day. In addition to shining blue, the Red Sox are hosting Autism Awareness Day on April 28th.

The April 28th game at Fenway against the Houston Astros will raise money for Autism  by donating a portion of each ticket sold to Autism Speaks.

So, if you’re looking to go to a Red Sox game this year, go to Autism Day on Sunday April 28th! See a great game and support a great cause! Game starts at 1:35 p.m.

Spread the Word!

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