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The mission of Special Olympics is to provide an opportunity and a safe environment for people of all ages with mental and physical disabilities to participate in the activities and sports everyone else plays. It is meant to provide fun and encourage personal development and socialization with the surrounding environment. I always thought of Special Olympics as a nice thing, but I never realized how much this means to the athletes. There are those that look forward to this more than anything. Some of the adult athletes in the program have done this ever since they were old enough. It was amazing to be a part of such a powerful program. I had gone to college in this area for the past three years, but you live almost in a bubble. You do not interact much with the surrounding community and you almost forget there are people that live there that aren’t students, or involved with the school at all. It really opened my eyes the community I had been living in for so long. I learned a lot about the area and the people in it. It was a very humbling experience to be a part of and I would recommend others to volunteer in some way with Special Olympics. Some people may be a little nervous to participate, but if volunteers talk to their peers about it word will spread. Hopefully this will be the push for more people to want to volunteer. I contributed simply by showing up and talking to the athletes. Just socializing with them and working as a team like they were anyone else will positively affect the athletes. I did notice that some volunteers did not take their job very seriously. The people in charge of the program really need to find a way to show all the volunteers in the beginning how much of a negative effect they can have on the athletes if they are not fulfilling their role. This needs to be stressed and reinforced in order to improve participation and the program.
Today was my first day of bowling as a volunteer with the Special Olympics. I was greeted by a long line out the door, a lot of noise, and just overall chaos. I went by myself and felt a little overwhelmed at the situation, but tried to take it all in stride. I did have one thing to my advantage. I have worked with Special Education participants before. In my high school we had a club called Partner’s Club where the Special Education students and the rest of the student body could be in an environment where they are encouraged to interact and create friendships, it was a great program that I was involved with during my senior year there. The school also had Adaptive P.E. for anyone with either physical or mental impairments. I was a student volunteer for one of the classes. It was easily my favorite part about senior year and I always looked forward to going to those classes. That is what made me want to participate in Special Olympics as my Service Learning project. I was sent to the lane with my team and was greeted by two athletes. Those would be the only two that would show up today. The entire team we were playing against showed up. One of the experienced volunteer led the group and showed another volunteer and me how everything worked. I felt comfortable very quickly. Everyone was friendly, although one of my athletes had injured her foot previously and so my team only had two people bowling. The other student made sure to put in accurate blinds for my teams and we would end up winning because of it. I was worried I would make a fool of myself, and my team would be angry because I wasn’t a good bowler. However, everyone was very encouraging and never once said anything negative. It was a great way to start off the experience and definitely calmed my nerves and got rid of any reservations that I had.
When I got to the bowling alley on week two everything was much calmer and more organized. There was only a short line this time and I felt much more comfortable knowing what I was doing. Once again there were only two athletes that showed up, and the other volunteer on my team was still MIA. Every week you are supposed to bowl against a different team. However, yet again I was with the same team as last week. I was actually extremely pleased with this because I was already fairly well acquainted with the other team and got along with everyone easily. One thing that was very different from my other experiences with Special Needs participants is that I was used to working with students closer to my age. Most of the athletes bowling in Special Olympics are adults. I had never even considered the fact that I would be working with adults for some reason. This was kind of a twist that gave me a new challenge to tackle. The adults that I worked with do not have severe disabilities and you can talk to them as your peers. I became comfortable around them a lot quicker then I thought. This is probably because of the way they treated me and how welcoming they were. This week my athlete with an injured foot wanted to bowl, but still couldn’t on her own so we used a bowling ramp. Basically all you do is setup the ramp where you want it and push the bowling ball off of it. I have never seen it used before and it was an interesting experience. It took a little bit of practice and teamwork, but we got it working. I was extremely glad she got to participate. It was very obvious she felt much more included and had a better time this week.
This week since only two of my team members had showed up previously I decided to take a friend who was extremely eager to go. Of course when we showed up my entire team was there. We adapted and decided to switch off during my turn. The new people definitely were not as social with the three of us that had been there the past two weeks. They were very nice but they were more off doing their own thing. The other volunteer had friends the next lane over and so was continuously going over there when it was not her turn. She didn’t seem very interested in socializing with the athletes, which could have been because she just didn’t want to or because she felt uncomfortable. We played a new team today, but the two teams didn’t intermingle like with the previous team. I think there was just a lot going on with so many new people and everyone had to try to readjust. I could tell my friend was just taking everything in, because he didn’t know what to expect. However, I think he really enjoyed the experience. Afterwards he mentioned how he got to socialize some with the athletes and how he thought that was really cool that he got to talk to them. I was glad I could share in the experience with someone I know to show them how rewarding it was.
This week once again just team members showed up. They were both athletes that had showed up for the first time the other week. The two of them are middle aged and they are husband and wife. They informed me that the previous week when I couldn’t attend that they were the only two that showed up on the team. They seemed disappointed by that. I felt terrible that I couldn’t come and this showed me just how important my attendance was. The rest of my team was falling through so I had to step up as my team leader. I had to be there for whomever decided to show up each and every week. They decided to bowl for everyone that was missing instead of putting on blinds. I could tell they were getting worn out by doing this. I kept suggesting that we could put the blinds on anytime. However, they were very adamant about bowling for everyone so I let them go for it. I enjoyed having just two of them compared to last week so I could get to know them better. They seemed more social and comfortable in this environment.
This week my team got even smaller. Today is was only the husband who showed up to play. His wife was sick and couldn’t come. Once again he wanted to bowl for everyone, and this time he was on his own. We played with a more social team this week. Everyone was interacting with each other and it was a fun environment. All the athletes and volunteers are so friendly there and they seem genuinely interested in you and your life. One of my teammate’s friends from the other team decided to help out my teammate by bowling for two of the people that were missing. This made it easier on him and made him feel like he had another teammate. He seemed to enjoy that since they are both very good at bowling. It was another fun night but I am beginning to worry about the rest of my team not showing up. I am particularly shocked that the other volunteer on my team has only showed up one time so far. It is beginning to bother me and appears a little irresponsible to commit to something and not follow through or even drop out for that matter. However, the team does not seem to be affected by her absence because she hasn’t been here enough for them to realize she is missing.
Things are a little on and off with Special Olympics. We had last week off because of the Thursday night Virginia Tech football game. This shows how big an impact the college has on the community. It is almost like everything stops for it. Most of the community is Virginia Tech fans and so this is a big event for everyone in the area. We also have next week off because of Thanksgiving. This week the team was still just the husband and wife again. I found out though that one of my team members had dropped out. He was a very good bowler and seemed to really like it so I am concerned as to what caused him to drop out. I hope he is doing okay. The other athlete that has shown up in a while has not been heard from so I really worry about her. I was then asked by the people in charge about the other volunteer. When I told them she had only shown up one week they looked very disappointed and frustrated. You can tell this is a big problem with the program and they are struggling with how to fix it. We had another volunteer join us after that. He was really nice and fit in with the team instantly. It mixed things up a bit and made it more fun to have someone different on the team. I have really gotten to know the current to members of my team and they seem to have become comfortable with me.
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