Spreading the Word

Special Olympics, Ending the R-word, Getting Involved

Get Involved

I’ve been writing to you all about Special Olympics and its affiliates for about 3 months now and I hope you have all found a new interest in this wonderful cause. There are many things you can do to get involved or donate and here are some ways!

Volunteer as a Coach or Official: To volunteer as a coach or official, you have to become certified in your specific sport. There are courses you can take to become certified. There is a 3 step process for becoming a certified Special Olympics official. Part 1 is an introduction to officiating Special Olympics and any rules or equipment that come with each event or sport. Part 2 focuses on competition venue and games management. Part 3 requires you to officiate 5 Special Olympic sport competitions under the supervision of a certified Special Olympics official.

*Those who have a National Governing Body (NGB) officials’ certification or and International Sport Federations (ISF) certification only have to complete parts 1 and 3 to become certified.

Volunteer with Healthy AthletesMore than 90,000 healthcare professionals and students worldwide volunteer at Special Olympics events every year. Each volunteer even receive free training about the specific health needs of people with intellectual disabilities. If you are in the health care field, I strongly suggest that you find time to volunteer for this great cause!

Volunteer at a Day-of Games: There are thousands of Special Olympics competitions around the country and the world! Volunteering for a day games is easy, click here to find a Special Olympics near you. Day of games are my favorite. If you read my previous blog you know what a great time we had at the FSU Special Olympics this year! There are so many opportunities at day of games. You can work at track and get a giant hug as athletes cross the finish line, you can work at awards and see the smiles on the athletes faces as you place a medal  around their neck or you can work at Olympic Town and do arts and crafts with the athletes who aren’t competing at that time. There is something for everyone!

Raise money for Special Olympics: The success of Special Olympics and their athletes relies heavily on donations from family, friends, businesses and YOU! You don’t have to give a lot, you don’t even have to give out of your own pocket. You can join a team, hold a fundraiser or sponsor an athlete. I’m a college student, working two jobs so I don’t have a lot of money to give to organizations or charities (although I wish I could) so back in February I participated in the Polar Plunge. I fundraised on Facebook, I asked friends and family for donations and I had a donation jar at work. All together I raised $350. Read about my experience here.

I hope you all take a few minutes to look into volunteering and sign up for an event. I promise you, it will be one of the greatest days of your life!

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Volunteers after the FSU School Day games!

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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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Donate to Autism Research

In my last post I told you 7 facts about Autism. Fact #3 told us that having a child or family member with Autism can cost up to an extra $60,000 a year. Because of this high cost and today’s economy, many families are unable to afford the necessary therapy and treatment that can improve social skills and functionality of a person with Autism.

Take a look at some of these organizations and pick one to donate to. Help give a child with Autism the chance to overcome their challenges and have fun!

  • The American Autism Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing low-income children with Autism and their families access to recreational programs such as summer and after school programs, speech therapy and even scholarships to Autistic schools – all for FREE (with help of your donations, of course!) The American Autism Association also creates programs specifically designed for individual children so they can get the right service that will best benefit them.
  • Autism Speaks was founded in 2005. The organization has grown immensely over the years and is dedicated funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism. They also work to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and advocate for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Even if you can’t afford to donate money right now, you can always donate your time! Visit their website to find ways to volunteer!
  • The Children’s Institute is a state-approved private school in New Jersey with programs specifically designed to help children and young adults with Autism reach their full potential. TCI accepts all ages, from pre-school to the TCI Center for Independence for people over 21 years old.  Tuition is free for families and every little donation helps!
  • The Autism Society is dedicated to improving the lives of those with Autism and their families. They focus on increasing public awareness, they advocate for appropriate lifetime services for individuals with Autism and provide families with the most up-to-date information regarding treatment, education and research. Find a way to donate today!

Now that you have some information about each leading Autism Awareness organization. Please help them help those who can’t afford treatment or the right education for themselves or their children. Donate doesn’t always mean you have to give money – volunteering is a rewarding experience for everyone involved.

The easiest way to help it to SPREAD THE WORD about Autism Awareness!

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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

KamishaJacob

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Take me out to the ballgame

Baseball is America’s favorite past-time and thanks to the Challenger Division of Little League, kids with intellectual disabilities can take the field too!

Challenger League has over 900 divisions world-wide and more than 30,000 players.

When I was in high school, I volunteered with the Challenger League for 3 years.  I looked forward to it every single Sunday. Each player was teamed up with a Buddy volunteer who went up to bat, played the field and ran the bases with them. We were there for encouragement and support.

Every week I had a different partner. One week, my partner was Andrew. Andrew has down syndrome and is probably the cutest kid ever! Our first time up at bat, Andrew hit a a single to shortstop and as soon as we stepped on first base I went to give Andrew a high-five and he turned to the side, pointed at his cheek and asked for a kiss!

I also partnered up with the catcher, Robbie. Robbie came to the field every Sunday, ready to play! He even came into the high school’s athletic office just to talk baseball with us.

I volunteered with the Challenger League because I love these kids, but I know I have made a difference when I came off the field after my own softball and field hockey games to see Alex cheering me on from the sidelines. Alex, is in a wheelchair and  doesn’t talk but that doesn’t put a stop to his love for sports. Alex and his parents came to almost every one of my high school games, and nothing made his face light up more than when I gave him a high-five after the game.

Special Olympics offers so many great opportunities. Here is a video of the 5th Annual Medford Invitational Challenger Day Tournament.

http://www.myfoxboston.com/story/17760499/medford-invitational-tournament-challenger-day

Video Credit: www.myfoxboston.com

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SPOTLIGHT: Kenneth Faried

Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried was just recently awarded the “Kia Community Assist Award” for Februray. He supports acceptance and inclusion in many ways. This year, he was an honorary coach at the 2013 NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports Basketball Game in Houston.

Kenneth Faried is the recipient of the Kia Community Assist Award for his outstanding community efforts to promote acceptance and inclusion. Photo Credit: nba.com

Faried is extending his efforts by participating in the Denver Nuggets Special Olympics clinic where 125 Special Olympics Colorado athletes will participate.

By winning this award, Kia and the NBA will donate $10,000 in Faried’s name to the Lupus Colorado fund and Special Olympics Colorado Project UNIFY.

Great Job Kenneth! This is awesome, keep up the good work!

For more information about Kenneth Faried’s outreach and inclusion efforts go to www.nba.com.

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How it all started

When I was in the 5th grade I did the Walk for Autism with my family and my neighbors. We formed a team called Joey’s Journey. Joey is my neighbor, he has autism and he is responsible for my passion and love for Special Olympics.

When my mom started teaching in the special needs class at the high school, Joey was one of her students. I used to go there every Wednesday after school to play with the kids and help her out in the classroom. Joey and I used to have so much fun doing whatever activities they were working on that day and through Joey, I met so many other incredible people. By the time I was a freshman in high school all of the kids in the special needs (PACE) class knew me. We would see each other in the hallway, at lunch and after school – give each other hive fives and hugs – it was the best part of my day. I built friendships with them.

The friendships I built with the PACE kids prompted me to get involved with Special Olympics. I couldn’t be happier! Joey and the other kids I met in high school have inspired me on so many levels. Working with them had taught me to be more patient and to look at life in a positive way. When I’m around them I don’t worry about tests and money and life’s everyday problems, I’m just happy.

What started as Joey’s Journey 10 years ago has turned into my journey to become a better and happier person.

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Special Olympics, Ending the R-word, Getting Involved

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