The Young Athletes Festival provided a unique opportunity for the YLE participants to take on a Games volunteer role. At the event, YLE participants interacted with children and families in the community and honed their skills in spreading the message about Young Athletes. Over the course of a three-day period, almost 300 children with and without intellectual disabilities came to the YA Festival to participate in a variety of activities – including activity stations, a photo booth, an obstacle course and a Strider Bike adventure zone.
During the Festival, YLE teams co-led two of the six available volunteer roles. Some roles, such as the individual activity stations and obstacle course, allowed participants to learn more about gross motor skill development and supporting children of all abilities in accomplishing tasks by modifying or enhancing activities. Other roles, such as registration and participant guides, let participants develop their interpersonal skills by interacting with families, answering questions about Young Athletes and directing families to more information about continuing their involvement locally.
For many of the participants, the opportunity to interact with the future of the Special Olympics movement was powerful and provided an opportunity to influence the next generation. The reflections highlighted the importance of having Young Athletes and youth leaders work together. Many stories focused on how important it was for the Young Athletes and their families to see youth leaders of all abilities leading this event. The YLE participants were a wonderful example of how everyone is a leader!
Through the observation of Interscholastic Unified Basketball and Intercollegiate Unified Flag Football, youth leaders were motivated to continue their involvement with Special Olympics as they make the transition from high school to college.
Youth leaders learned how to identify the important elements of Unified Sports – meaningful involvement and player dominance during competition. Representatives from the National Intramural and Recreation Sports Association (NIRSA) met with YLE participants to discuss their partnership with Special Olympics and shared insight on connecting with recreation professionals on college campuses. NIRSA is the leading organization for college recreation, which makes their partnership critical for the continued expansion of intercollegiate Unified Sports.
With the Social Media and Storytelling rotation at the Youth Leadership Experience, participants were invited to immerse themselves into one of the foundations of the Special Olympics movement: sharing stories of inclusion.
With the YLE’s unique structure of having the participants recognized as part of the delegation, they were able to form connections with fellow athletes and partners representing their state. As on-site reporters, the Unified pairs utilized social media to send out updates and stories to their followers about their delegation’s athletes. Activating all the youth pairs as reporters produced a vast amount of content for Special Olympics social channels.
The freedom to explore all the Games had to offer also gave pairs the unique opportunity to complete an “audio/video scavenger hunt.” The YLE pairs spent half of their day in this rotation interviewing spectators, family members, volunteers, and athletes, stepping out of their comfort zone as observers and into the role of active interviewers. This gave them new perspective, speaking with people of a variety of ages, abilities, and reasons for attending the Games.
Throughout the week, the youth pairs have gained more confidence to be leaders of inclusion in their communities at home. They swapped stories, shared ideas, and built relationships that have given them a renewed passion for Special Olympics. By forging these new friendships and gaining new perspectives on inclusion, each youth leader now has a unique experience to fuel their Special Olympics journey moving forward.
General sessions were used to prepare and to reflect on the roles our participants took on during the week, to turn an experience into action.
Opening session served as an orientation for our youth leaders and mentors. Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman for Special Olympics International, challenged the youth leaders to think of their “one shot” they do not want to miss over the next week, and started a little dance party to kick off the week.
Closing session served as recognition for the work they accomplished over the past four days and as an opportunity to set goals that will impact their school, their community, and their Special Olympics State Program.