Special Olympics—Smiles for Everyone
“I get to see their smiling faces—that’s my reward!” Marci McAdams enthusiastically declares with a big smile on her own face. One of her volunteer jobs for Special Olympics in Florida is to hand out the rewards to the participants. Those smiles keep her coming back and taking on more as a volunteer. She handles much of the administrative work that keeps the program running smoothly; and she also trains new coaches, who are also volunteers. When she runs a training session, she invites at least one of the special athletes to help her by showing the potential coaches the possibilities.
Special Olympics is so much more than “a competition here and there.” In the early 1960s Eunice Kennedy Shriver, moved by the lack of inclusion of children with intellectual disabilities (ID) in even basic opportunities for play, set up a summer camp in her own backyard to give them a chance to participate in physical activities, including sports. She set out to change society’s view of persons with ID. Now more than five million special athletes from ages eight through older adults in 172 countries participate year-round in Special Olympics trainings and events in county, state, area, and international levels in more than 30 different sports. Children, age two to seven, can begin developing skills through Special Olympics Young Athletes program.
Athletes benefit from the training and competitions as they develop physical fitness, skills, and friendships. They gain courage and self-confidence and experience joy. Society benefits from focusing on the abilities rather than the disabilities of persons with ID and discovering their gifts. Promoting understanding and social inclusion, Special Olympics is making a change for the better for everyone.
Volunteers make it all possible. Handing out awards, doing administrative tasks, training new volunteers, including coaches—all of which Marci does—are just a few of the opportunities available to volunteers. Encouraging athletes, setting up and tearing down for events, coaching for the various sports, recruiting other volunteers, and photographing events are a few more of the possibilities. Check the website for your state to find a specific place where your interests intersect with the needs: specialolympics.org.