As part of our LAS protocol, we participate in a LEAD Team our freshman year. I had the privilege of being a part of the Special Olympics LEAD Team. As a part of the Special Olympics LEAD Team our main project was the Leadership Launch, however, we also participated in the Fall Games. Participating in the Special Olympics was always something I loved to do, but being apart of the LEAD Team took this love to a whole new level.
The first event as a part of the SOMI LEAD Team was the Fall Special Olympics held in Ypsilanti. At the Fall Games I was able to help out with Golf for the majority of the time I was there. At the beginning I was stationed on a specific hole to help the athletes find their balls and encourage them. I enjoyed this because I was able to meet so many different athletes and have quality conversations with them. Meeting so many different athletes and personalities made sure there was never a dull moment. After, another volunteer and I were paired with an athlete. We drove the athlete from hole to hole and accompanied them during their game.
There were two athletes and four volunteers per group. This experience was particularly enjoyable because I was able to form a strong relationship with the athletes and the other volunteers throughout the 9-hole game. Then, of course, there was the dance. One of the best parts, if not the best part, of the Special Olympics, is the athlete-volunteer dances after closing ceremony. Here, the athletes get to go wild and just have a blast with the volunteers while jamming out to their favorite songs. The athlete-volunteer dance is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of.
The second part of the SOMI LEAD Team, and the main event, was the 2015 Leadership Launch. Here, the Leadership Institute brought in students, with and without intellectual disabilities, to participate in Project UNIFY. Project UNIFY emphasizes respect and unity for everyone, especially those with intellectual disabilities. During Leadership Launch a fellow LAS scholar, Sam, and I had the privilege of being a facilitator of the Green Anaconda group.
As a group we were able to first get to know each other through multiple icebreakers, then partake in some activities to emphasize inclusion and acceptance. One activity that stuck out to me was called “RESPECT-Houston, we have a problem.”During this activity each participant was given a flashlight and pointed the shining flashlight towards the ceiling. The flashlights represented joy and acceptance in the community. Then one facilitator gave a number of insults and after each one a flashlight turned off. Eventually, all the lights were turned off and the facilitator took a second to explain that the dark room represented an exclusive school or community in which there was no respect for each other. But then, the facilitator began saying compliments. One by one the flashlights began turning back on and soon the room was lit back up. The facilitator highlighted the importance of being respectful and inclusive to keep the room lit up. This stood out to me because so often we see people not being inclusive and seeing the room go darker and darker. As a leader it is my responsibility to be inclusive and make sure everyone else is being respectful and inclusive and throughout the day we tried to instill this same belief in everyone at Leadership Launch.
Being a part of the SOMI LEAD Team was easily one of the highlights of my Freshman year thus far. Being a part of this group was truly a privilege. I learned a ton about inclusion, respect, and about myself throughout my time on this LEAD Team. Between the Fall Games and Leadership Launch I can’t think of a better LEAD Team to be a part of.