As a special education major, you can assume that I am obsessed with Special Olympics. Special Olympics is a way for people with disabilities to be active and have fun in a setting that focuses on them and their personal achievements. Ever since my freshman year of high school I have been volunteering with Special Olympics. I’ve always known that there are events and games that I still have not yet experienced but what I didn’t know is that there were more opportunities for these students than just on the track, in the pool, on the slopes, or in the bowling alley.
As a Leadership Advancement Scholar, we are asked to join a LEAD Team through the Leadership Institute. We are given many options of which teams we would like to join based on what each teams focus is and what you are interested in. OBVIOUSLY when I was told that Special Olympics was one of the options that we had, I had my heart set on it. When people asked me what I put down as my choices as we had to choose three in case some filled up, I told them Special Olympics. When they said “what about the other two”, I literally said “I don’t know I just really want Special Olympics”. That probably wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done but truly I just have such a passion for this organization.
What I didn’t know about the Special Olympics LEAD Team was…well, pretty much everything. When I was told that I got the Special Olympics LEAD Team I was ecstatic. Then I realized I didn’t even know what we would be doing. I assumed we would be volunteering at the Special Olympics events and just helping out with whatever they needed. I was wrong and as much as I would have loved doing all of those things, I’m happy that I was wrong because it opened me up to so many new things.
The Special Olympics LEAD Team was focused on putting on a Leadership Conference for both students with and without disabilities. HOW SMART AND AWESOME IS THIS??? I would have never thought that Special Olympics would put on an event like this. I thought Special Olympics just hosted sporting events and competitions but I was so wrong and I was amazed by this.
Sometimes I forget that not everyone sees themselves as leaders because I see everyone else in that way. Having a conference to show these students that they are leaders regardless of any restrictions that they may have is so important. These students have the ability to make such a difference in their communities and the lives around them but they need people to teach them what that looks like, how they can do that, and to simply encourage them and show them that they are capable of this and that is what this leadership conference is all about. The students went through several activities, lectures and sessions that taught them about different aspects of leadership and how it only takes one person to make a change.
My role in this conference was to be a guide during the day. I had a group of students that my partner and I were responsible for during the day. We would walk them to and from each session and help facilitate during their activities. The most important part of our job as guides was to encourage them and help them take away what they were supposed to from each session. Making sure that they were having fun and understood the purpose of each activity and how it applied to them in their communities and schools was vital to this conference being a success.
What I took away from this was just as important as what the students took away. First of all I got so many new experiences through this lead team. I have worked with students with disabilities and without disabilities in so many different environments but never in one like this. Gaining this experience of facilitating and managing groups of students in this atmosphere was so new and exciting for me. It also reminded me that EVERYONE needs reminders that they have the power to do the things that they want to. Society can put stereotypes on people and groups and even the people that fall under these stereotypes and groups forget that the limitations put on them are false.. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what circumstances you have, you can make as big or little of a difference that you want. I grew up just knowing this but not everyone has that. This conference reminded me that everyone has those abilities but some people need reminders of that. As a leader in society and an advocate for those specifically with special needs it is my job to be the person to give them those reminders and the tools to be the best that they can.
This conference is so important and just shows that Special Olympics will never fail to amaze. From this conference I now know what kinds of things people should know about leadership and that there truly are no limitations for anyone who wants to be a leader. This was such an important experience as a future educator specifically for students with special needs and I can’t wait to continue instilling these ideas and experiences in the students and advocates of special education around me.