This week’s summer showcase post is from Erin Palmer, a writer and editor for Bisk Education. Erin writes about topics such as online MPA programs. Students that earn their MPA degree can make a huge difference in the world through public service and nonprofit work. Erin can be reached on Twitter @Erin_E_Palmer. Welcome, Erin!
My siblings mean everything to me. As one of seven kids, my siblings and I have a bond that goes far beyond simply coming from the same gene pool. We are each other’s support systems, guidance counselors and biggest cheerleaders.
My youngest sister Kaitlin is the most joyful person I know. She has the unique ability to make me smile even in my darkest mood. She loves to draw, is a talented dancer and can make almost anyone laugh. She also happens to have Down syndrome.
When Kaitlin’s P.E. teacher encouraged her to participate in the Special Olympics, I thought it would be a fun way for her to spend the afternoon. I looked forward to cheering her on from the crowd. I had no idea how amazing the experience would be, not only for my sister, but for me as well.
Being a part of such a big family means that I have been to countless sporting events, dance recitals and school plays. None of these events could even come close to matching the excited atmosphere that the leaders of the Special Olympics provide. There were well over a thousand people there, from participants and family members to educators and volunteers. I have never seen so many smiling faces in one place before. It was truly a sight to behold.
Within minutes of our arrival, Kaitlin had made new friends. What makes the Special Olympics so wonderful is how supportive the participants are of one another. They might be competing in the events, but that doesn’t stop them from high-fiving each other when the event is over. It is so beautiful to see people who genuinely want those around them to do well.
Not only were the other contestants encouraging to my sister, but her school also showed their support for her efforts. Even though she was the only participant from her middle school and the event was quite a drive from her school, both her P.E. teacher and her school principal came out to watch Kaitlin participate. The fact that they would drive out on a Saturday and spend hours outside in the Florida heat for one student was so moving.
In Kaitlin’s two years of participating in the Special Olympics, she has earned two gold medals for racing and a silver medal for distance softball throwing. Her medals are displayed proudly on her bedroom wall among her most prized possessions. The awards are lovely, but she gained so much more from the experience than just a medal.
The Special Olympics has improved her health by promoting exercise. People with Down syndrome have increased risks for obesity, so developing healthy habits is crucial for their long-term health. Participating in the event also helped to increase Kaitlin’s confidence. Having Down syndrome doesn’t change the fact that Kaitlin is a teenage girl with insecurities and occasional self-doubt. Having so many people applauding her and shouting out support made her feel great about herself. She was just as pleased with her silver medal as her gold one. The outpouring of love that she got was the real trophy.
For me, it was more than just an afternoon of watching my sister run races and throw softballs. It was proof that one day, one moment is all it takes to change the world for the better. Every participant in the Special Olympics left the event a happier and healthier person than they were when they came in. Every parent got to witness their child being recognized not as someone with a disability, but as an amazing and unique individual. Every volunteer got to help make someone’s dream come true. The Special Olympics exemplify the amazing effect that a nonprofit can have on a community. This organization will always have my unwavering support, not only because of the phenomenal effect they have had on my sister, but because of their overall compassion. The Special Olympics doesn’t just promote acceptance… it makes everyone a winner.
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