By Jordan Schubert, Special Olympics PA Athlete Leadership Coordinator
Special Olympics was started over 45 years ago when so many people, including founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, did not know what to expect. Over the past 45 years, Special Olympics has grown larger than anyone could have imagined.
The greatest stories are always those in which no one knows what to expect in the beginning. That is what I have to say in regards to all my Special Olympics experiences over the past 10 years. After experiencing a lot of success as an athlete and a youth leader at my school with Special Olympics Illinois, I moved to Pennsylvania not knowing what the future would hold. However, as I said earlier, not knowing what to expect is what makes the SO experience.
In the fall of 2011, I joined the National Youth Activation Committee (YAC) for Project UNIFY. Not only did this allow me to work with youth leaders from across the country in promoting Inclusive Youth Leadership, Whole School Engagement, and Unified Sports, more importantly, it got me connected with people from Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA). After taking over a year and a half off from competing, I returned to competition for the sport I love most, basketball. I got to see how vastly different competition is between IL and PA. Combining my love of sports, and my work that I have done with Project UNIFY on the National YAC and my communications internship at SOI this past summer motivated me to want to do more for SOPA beyond the playing field. In October of 2013, I was hired as PA's new Athlete Leadership Program (ALP) Coordinator, working in the Eastern Office.
While I had heard a lot about PA's ALPs program, like when I first got involved with Project UNIFY, I didn't know exactly what I was getting into. My first week on the job, I got to learn a lot about ALPs and what my position is all about. My second week on the job led me even further to what ALPs is all about, not just for PA, but for all of North America. The first ever Special Olympics North America ALPs Summit was held in Philadelphia. At this conference, we discussed in depth all the major aspects of ALPs such as ALPs University courses, having athletes work at a program office (which is what I'm doing right now), having athletes on the Board, and how ALPs ties into Project UNIFY. My main task at the conference was using my experience in both ALPs and Project UNIFY and what they can do for each other. For those who don't know much about Project UNIFY, it's a sports and education program that Special Olympics started in 2008 to create inclusion between people with and without intellectual disabilities both socially and athletically.
As I am finishing up my final year on the National YAC, one of the things I want to go into is athlete mentorship, and not only mentor younger athletes, but Unified Partners as well. That way, students can learn what leadership is all about at a young age and prepare them for joining a YAC in their state, or the National YAC. After an athlete transitions off of their YAC, they can then take the leadership skills that they learned and apply them in training at ALPs University by taking courses on becoming a Global Messenger, coach, official, governance, etc. From there, they can work to pursue leadership opportunities within their local program. Not only did I share those ideas with all the attendees at the conference, I got to share it in front of a panel of special guests that included a representative from Bank of America (a corporate partner of Special Olympics), Philadelphia Councilman Dennis O'Brien, Commissioner of Philadelphia's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Service Dr. Arthur Evans, and the Chairman of Special Olympics International Dr. Timothy Shriver.
After hearing a lot of positive feedback from the panel on my presentation, as well as those of the other attendees, I then headed off to Villanova to experience my first PA Fall Festival. I was really impressed from what I saw. Not just all the athletes competing, but meeting athletes who are on the SOPA Board of Directors, and seeing all the hard work put into Villanova’s planning and running of the games. After checking out the competition, I got to attend my first Athlete Input Council, led by athletes Mike Stephens and Melissa Woerner. My job was to take notes from all of the feedback athletes gave. I was impressed with many of the athletes giving positive feedback. Of course, there's always room for improvement and the athletes did a great job sharing what needed to be improved. Even though I didn't compete at Fall Festival, there were some things that were pointed out that I felt could be improved at other state competitions I have competed in.
Jackie Robinson is one of my greatest inspirations, not just for breaking down the color barrier in baseball, but also taking an active part in the Civil Rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders. From my experience at the ALPs Summit, my first Athlete Input Council, and other past experiences that I have had, as an athlete leader, my goal is not only to break down barriers in competition, but also break down barriers to allow athletes to be victorious outside of Special Olympics.