California – Los Angeles: Special Olympics
Josh Sarna is entering into his third year at UCLA. His passion for service is clear through his dedication to UCLA’s Community Service Commission, as a member of the External Programs Committee, and to the student organization, Best Buddies at UCLA, as Vice-President. Best Buddies at UCLA is a student organization that advocates for disability rights and works to provide opportunities (e.g. friendships and jobs) for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) that most people take for granted. Josh’s involvement with Best Buddies led him to spend his time this summer volunteering for the Special Olympics World Games. His motivation to volunteer came from his passion for the goals of inclusion that the Special Olympics is trying to accomplish, as well as the timing and scale of the event. Josh reflected, “I’ll probably never again live in the city hosting such a huge and important event, and I didn’t want to just sit and watch it happen; I wanted to be involved.” It was the perfect opportunity for Josh since the work Best Buddies does closely relate to the World Games and what they stand for. He loved meeting the thousands of athletes and coaches UCLA hosted for the duration of the Games and watching them compete.
While the volunteer work for the World Games varied day-to-day, Josh noticed one constant throughout his time spent volunteering: positive spirit. Josh helped to set-up the Torch Run that took place before the Games began as well as the volunteer registration table during the Games. He also helped out as a Fan in the Stands, which meant he had the responsibility of being extremely spirited and cheering on the athletes. No matter what he was doing, Josh noticed enthusiasm was both important and unavoidable. He noted, “Being surrounded by so many excited people who are passionate about what they are doing and how they are competing makes it impossible not to be perpetually excited.” Josh’s favorite part of volunteering for the Games was actually the first day, when he, along with other UCLA volunteers, spent the day welcoming all of the athletes to UCLA’s campus. Though it was stressful at times to overcome language barriers and meet the needs of everyone arriving on campus at once, Josh said it was both rewarding and fun to help the teams find their rooms, check-in areas, and places to eat. He felt it was easy to connect to everyone he spoke to, knowing everyone there believed in the same things.
When asked how this service experience impacted him, Josh said:
“I was really inspired by the Games. Thinking back on them is actually kind of surreal, simply because I still can’t wrap my head around the magnitude of what happened. The soccer games I watched were like every other soccer game I’ve ever seen in that players would fall dramatically, mime severe pain, and then stand up and be fine, but I saw one thing on the field that, before this week, I had never seen: almost every time one of the athletes fell, half or more of those who rushed over to help him up were members of the opposing team. … I think [what I learned from the Games] was really just a reaffirmation of something I already knew: there are very few things more important than inclusion, and fighting for inclusion doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. Sometimes it just means doing fun things, watching sporting events, and having a good time. It’s usually more work to exclude someone than it is to include them.”
For those interested in getting involved with promoting inclusion, check out both the Specials Olympics at UCLA and Best Buddies student organization websites. Both groups have opportunities to volunteer for one-time events as well as continued service.