Every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9:45 AM to 11:45 AM, one can find Special Olympics at UCLA volunteers at their service sites, working with their service recipients and practicing a variety of sports from basketball to soccer to tennis.
With 11 directors, 20 athletes, and 35 volunteers, Special Olympics at UCLA helps lead athletic practices every Saturday and plans social events for the service recipients on select weekends. The service recipients, or athletes, are primarily African American or Hispanic and come from underserved areas, while others are from the Pathway at UCLA Extension program, a post-secondary certificate program that works with students with intellectual disabilities to develop independent living, money management, and other life skills. With the athletes’ ages ranging anywhere from early 20s to late 60s, each athlete adds a distinct personality that contributes to the diverse and inclusive nature of the Special Olympics at UCLA team.
In addition to their service work on the field, as part of the international Special Olympics organization, Special Olympics at UCLA volunteers strive to foster acceptance to people with intellectual disabilities in all aspects of life. Recently Special Olympics at UCLA hosted and spearheaded the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign in collaboration with the Community Service Commission, Best Buddies, and UCLA Recreation. The campaign was an interactive three day event which sparked conversation about the use of the R-word across campus and sought to end its derogatory use. Campaign events included a call to action via social media videos, speaker events with representatives from Special Olympics Southern California and Pathway at UCLA Extension, and interactive events on Bruin Plaza and the Kerckhoff patio. Special Olympics at UCLA successfully helped encourage fellow Bruins to end their use of the R-word. By helping people become more conscious of their use of the word and building awareness of its negative impact, Special Olympics at UCLA created a more inclusive environment for people with intellectual disabilities at UCLA.
In addition, Special Olympics at UCLA has joined forces with the UCLA Volunteer Center and Pathway at UCLA Extension to allow athletes to participate in a quarterly symposium called Three Pillars, One University. Each quarter has interactive presentations that reflect a different theme, so athletes have been able to learn from UCLA faculty, administrators, and student groups in the areas of Arts and Humanities; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM); and Health and Athletics.
Currently, Special Olympics at UCLA is working with campus partners to prepare for this summer’s Special Olympics World Games, which will be held in Los Angeles, with some events taking place right on UCLA’s campus. The summer Games will be the largest athletic and humanitarian event to take place in the world during 2015. In addition, Special Olympics at UCLA is organizing a US-China exchange to take place immediately before the World Games. This exchange, which has been a year in the making, along with the World Games, will allow Special Olympics at UCLA to fulfill their goal of creating the best opportunities possible for their service recipients.
In an interview with the Special Olympics at UCLA Director, 4th year Physical Science major Tabitha Lin, she recalled that some of her favorite memories from her years of volunteering with Special Olympics have been seeing the service recipients grow from the program. One particular recipient she recalled “started early this year and was very shy, but as time passed we became good friends with him. Now he even does this thing where he takes off his hat and puts his head next to your head to show his affection. It’s nice to see how he’s opened up a lot in comparison to what he has done in the past.”
For their service both on and off the field, and for their creation of campaigns and programs which create a better understanding of people with intellectual disabilities, the UCLA Volunteer Center Fellows have chosen Special Olympics at UCLA as one of the recipients of the Spring 2015 Mongelli Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement.