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Where to volunteer?

Tim Singler | Thursday, April 22, 2010

 With summer fast approaching, if you have not yet, it is time to start thinking about summer plans. What will I do with myself this summer? 

The job market is sketchy and doesn’t look like a possibility. Relaxing all summer is not necessarily a bad thing, but I need some structure to my months off. Then it hit me: I can volunteer at an organization this summer, but where?
With so many organizations in need of help, one that flies under the radar is the Special Olympics.
The Special Olympics provides people of all ages with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to participate in a sport. Sports are not merely recreation either. They provide these people with the thrill of hitting the game-winning basket, striding out the last 100 meters of a race and celebrating a victory with teammates. 
But one thing is different about the Special Olympics. There are no losers. Everyone is a winner. The day-to-day challenges are so great for some that even just competing is a feat unto itself. 
I have first hand experience with the Special Olympics of Illinois. I went to watch my sisters, who both have Down syndrome, compete in swimming and gymnastics. I thought that it might be boring to watch the other events, but I found myself cheering just as loud for the competitors finishing the race or scoring last as I did for my sisters. 
The ability to finish is just as important, if not more important, than winning the event itself. The athlete who receives the loudest cheers is usually the one who perseveres to the physical limits of his or her strength just to finish. 
The Special Olympics provides a wonderful experience for all people with intellectual disabilities. When I attended the state summer games for Illinois to root for my sisters, there was something that I learned while in attendance that I didn’t expect. 
Winning had nothing to do with this weekend. In fact, the competition itself was only minor in comparison to the other activities. This is the one weekend of the year were my two sisters can spend a night or two away from parents, stay in a college dorm, and just have a good time. 
The Special Olympics has been an inspiration for me. Volunteers are always needed to make the events run. Prior knowledge of sports is not absolutely necessary, as just your presence will make all of the difference. 
Volunteering to work at a Special Olympic event will not go unnoticed either. Many of the athletes will go out of his or her way to say thank you. However, I feel that a big thank you needs to be given back to the athletes for their commitment to excellence. 
Take a chance this summer; try something new. All of the athletes take a pledge before the games begin. These words continue to influence athletes and all those involved throughout the world, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”