“Our goal at Special Olympics Arizona is to empower the over 180,000 Arizonans with intellectual disabilities to be healthy, productive, and respected members of society through our year-round sports training, competitions, and support programs.”
Upon arrival to my first volunteering experience with the Special Olympics charities, I was beyond anxious. I was definitely excited to meet all the different people and be apart of the movement, but I was nervous. I was 16 years old and I knew in a few short hours I would be taking on a great feat.
“Your job is to not only guide the athletes, but also keep the peace,” one of the mothers chaperoning the field trip explained. “You need to be prepared for anything, whether that means a tantrum or even an injury, stay calm and it will help the athletes do the same.” I immediately thought I was not ready for such a responsibility, but once I saw some of the athletes laughing and hugging the volunteers across the way, I knew this was where I wanted to be.
“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
This international, year-round program began in 1968 when Eunice Kennedy Shriver put on the first summer games in Chicago, Illinois. Yet her work began in the early 1960s when Shriver began a camp for disabled children; she always believed children with handicaps were a lot better in physical activity than experts were willing to admit or understand.
In December of 1968, the Special Olympics officially established itself as a non-profit organization with support from other accredited groups like The National Association for Retarded Citizens, the Council for Exceptional Children and the American Association on Mental Deficiency . From then on, millions of children have been able to benefit and participate in games and events all over the world.
This work is incredibly unique from so many other charities. It puts you in a spot to not only help these children grow and enjoy life, but you learn so much as well. You do not only appreciate your life and the opportunities you’ve been given, but you see beauty in every special child you work with. Their enthusiasm and eagerness to participate ignites a fire in you and constantly reminds you why this is an organization you want to be apart of.
So what does a volunteer do at a Special Olympics event? The organization has two levels of volunteering depending what type of involvement you are looking for.
Class A Volunteering offers opportunities to:
- have daily interaction with the athletes
- help with event and athlete paperwork
- hands out awards after events
- times the runners and/or assists the athletes to each event
- stands as a coach, chaperone, area director, or game management team member
Class B Volunteering offers opportunities to:
- assist in event planning
- participate in the SOAZ event
- these volunteers are not necessarily in direct contact with the athletes
- working in the official offices, fundraising event volunteers or day of event volunteers
For more information you can contact the volunteer coordinator, Mary Chistensen.
There are so many opportunities to get involved and offer your time and support for this amazing cause! Tune in next week to see what charity I feature next!