Week 36: Lakeland Area Special Olympics: Every Person Has the Capacity to be an Olympian
Human greatness is defined by the spirit, not the body.
I had registered to participate in a “Paint the Grain” event hosted by the Lakeland Area Special Olympics. The Chapter is new and this was their first fundraising event. The local training program coordinator, Katie Telschow is also one of the head coaches. Her passion for the program and its athletes was evident! At age 8 she participated in a camp that included special needs children and she knew then her path would involve working with these special individuals. Now a special education teacher at a nearby district, Katie worked hard to petition for and start up the Lakeland Area Chapter with the help and support of the Ringwood Recreation Department. The Chapter currently has 45 athletes and offers a variety of sports including: track and field, cheerleading, basketball, swimming and bowling, and more.
About 60 people came together at the lakeside clubhouse for the Paint the Grain event, to chat, mingle, create some lovely art, and support the Lakeland Chapter.
Special Olympics is a global organization whose mission is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Their goal is to give these athletes continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, leadership and teamwork skills, demonstrate courage, experience joy and develop friendships.
The activity for the fundraiser was to stain, stencil and paint a 12 x 12 decorative wooden sign. The owner and representatives from “And Here’s Your Sign” were on hand to take us through each step (and guide those of us who were less artistic/creative than others).
Each step needed time for drying and preparation, which gave plenty of opportunities for the participants to mingle and chat.
I was fortunate to sit at a table with a group of parents. In fact, it turned out that most of the attendees at the event were parents and coaches who were there to give their support and grow bonds. During the night I heard over and over again the positive impact participation in Special Olympics has had on their children and their families. One parent spoke about how her once shy, withdrawn child blossomed into an outgoing, self-confident athlete because of her involvement in cheerleading. Another parent told me about the improvement in her daughter’s motor and communication skills as she developed through the track and field program. Another parent shared the pride and excitement she felt watching her athlete compete – impressed by the level of effort and persistence to overcome. Other parents shared about the bonds they built with other families and how having that support, connection and friendship has impacted their lives. These stories were not unique.
Special Olympics provides transformative experiences that bring out pride, courage and joy in athletes and their families. Most family members are actively involved in the organization. The programs provide opportunities for physical activity, social interaction and the demonstration of competence to themselves, their families and the community.
During the evening, Katie did a wonderful job sharing facts about Special Olympics and, specifically, the Lakeland Chapter. I learned that participation is free of charge to the athletes – from equipment and coaching to training and uniforms. Funds raised at tonight’s fundraiser would go towards expenses at the NJ Summer and Winter Games, and also towards the purchase of gear, uniforms and sensory equipment for the athletes. Globally, Special Olympics reaches 5.7 million athletes in 172 countries. One of the focuses of the organization is healthy athletes and Katie mentioned that volunteer medical professionals would be on hand at the events to perform eye, dental, BMI and orthopedic screenings to the athletes, free of charge.
It was fun to work alongside the parents as we created our individual signs. We talked about how people often have inaccurate perceptions about the capabilities and potential of people with disabilities. Parents found the developmental and life skills developed through participation in the program go well beyond sports, helping the athletes live more independent and rewarding lives. Sharing stories of athletes’ achievements, skills and challenges, like the ones I heard at the event, work to educate, engage and change attitudes towards people with special needs and intellectual disabilities. I was also impressed by the number of coaches who attended the event. Many of the parents said the coaches were like family and had huge impact on their children’s lives.
I definitely enjoyed the night out creating lasting memories and learning about the Lakeland Area Special Olympics. Creating and taking home a beautiful wooden sign for my home will help me always remember the special people I met this evening. Special Olympics believes every person has the capacity to be an Olympian and the Lakeland Area Special Olympics is making those dreams come true!
To learn more about the Lakeland Area Special Olympics, please check out their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/LASOLancers/
To make a donation to the Lakeland Area Special Olympics to help support these amazing athletes and this wonderful Chapter, please visit their fundraising page at: https://www.classy.org/fundraiser/1044822
Interested in having your own “Paint the Grain” event for a special evening, party or fundraiser? Reach out to “And Here’s Your Sign” through their Etsy shop at: https://www.etsy.com/shop/AndHeresYourSign/