Service Learning With Special Olympics
Special Olympics are a worldwide organization for mentally disabled children and adults to be a part of a team and compete in a variety of sports. I have been a part of Special Olympics for many years because my aunt has been an athlete for most of her life. Volunteering with the program is an extremely great cause. One is able to affect many people’s lives in a fun environment. This is why I chose to volunteer with Special Olympics for my service learning hours for the Honors class.
Each Saturday that I visited Olympia Lanes in St. Joseph, Missouri to help with the bowling tournaments, was an unforgettable day. I met a new athlete every time that loved to share their accomplishments and stories with me. Kristy, my classmate, also went with me to these tournaments every weekend. Together we introduced ourselves to new athletes and find where they needed help. On every lane there were at least four bowlers who played two straight games. The volunteers at the lanes are responsible for helping each team keep score and to handle any problems they may encounter. Every athlete reacts to problems and victories differently. It is an amazing experience to learn to adjust to these reactions and work with the athletes to get through their overactive emotions.
Kristy and I have been working with some of the most patient people at the bowling ally. Jo is one of the head coordinators each weekend who takes the money from each bowler and makes sure everyone is on the correct lane before the games begin. Mary is also a coordinator for the program and helps with many of the same things as Jo. The program is very organized and very protected. Before Kristy and I began we had to have an extensive background check. This extra security if for the bowler’s protection, since some of the people who apply for a volunteering position are not always suited for the job, or often have an suspicious background.
Each Saturday there are about thirty bowlers who begin showing up at the lanes around ten o’clock. Once each bowler has paid their five dollars and they are with their team they can start their practice rounds. The fifteen-minute practice round allows bowlers to start warming up and making sure their scorecards are in place. After this the first game of bowling starts and as soon as this game is over the second game begins. Kristy and I were responsible for recording the number of strikes and spares each bowler had per game. After each game we were to take a grand total of the scores and record these for the bowlers as well.
There are several reoccurring athletes at the lanes that each have an amazingly unique personality and who all have a different quality or have been in a specific situation which stands out to me. Some of the athletes I even remember from when I went to the lanes when I was very young. Each week I am greeted by the lovely faces of Manny, Mark, Jake, Liz, Dan, Sam, and last but not least, Julie.
Manny is a wonderfully cordial man who is always overly apologetic and kind to everyone he meets. After I was introduced to Manny, he was always asking me questions about school and my family. He is very respectful to his fellow bowlers and never gets in anyone’s way. Mark has been part of Special Olympics Bowling since I was very young. He certainly has not changed at all. He is quite and especially cute with the ladies. Although he has aged quite a bit, and now has to wear hearing aids, he is still just as friendly and active. His short and frail looking physique is often a trick, for his bowling is still much better than I could ever do.
Jake is one of the younger bowlers at Olympia Lanes. He helps the other bowlers know when it is there time to go and which lane they are one. Yet, occasionally, Jake needs a push in the right direction too. Several of the bowlers have boyfriends or girlfriends who also bowl at the lanes. This can be a good or a bad thing for different reasons. Just recently Jake was having a stressful day of bowling. Because of his sour mood, his girlfriend Liz was also affected and began having a bad game. These heightened emotions are often the reason for outbursts or disagreements amongst bowlers on the lanes. Liz is one of the sweetest women you could ever meet. She is extremely calm, and although not an excellent bowler, she still manages to maintain her composure during a rough game.
Dan is an unusual man, with such an intense personality. He is boisterous and extremely kind, yet craves attention constantly. This man knows two main emotions, excitement and disappointment. When Dan bowls a strike he lets the entire place know it. His body language and booming voice is quite a sight. Yet when Dan does not get the strike he so eagerly awaits, his body slumps, his voice lowers. Luckily, this sullen mood is easily fixed with a smile from one of the volunteers, or a high five from a fellow athlete. Sam is often the athlete who bowls on the same lane as Dan. Sam, unlike Dan, is more reserved and less aggressive with his bowling. As Sam is taking his strides towards the lane, Dan is behind him giving him all sorts of tips on how to hold the ball or where to hit the pins. Sam takes each comment seriously and thinks about every move very carefully. Yet when Sam does bowl a strike or spare, he does not hesitate to show his excitement with a few high fives.
end, Julie is a bowler who is especially important to me. She is the entire reason I have ever been
involved with Special Olympics. Julie is
one of my aunts on my mother’s side.
Because of her involvement in Special Olympics I have met some
extraordinary people and have been to some amazing places. Several years ago I went with my family to
There are also several other people connected to Special Olympics who may not know just what an impact they have on the bowlers. The employees of Olympia Lanes are extremely kind to all of the athletes and work their hardest to make sure each Saturday runs as smoothly as possible for the group. Preparing the lanes before the ten o’clock rush of athletes and cleaning up after the lanes clear around three is not an easy feat. One young man is there every week and can always be seen running to each lane fixing things, renting out shoes, or making announcement over the intercom about an athletes high score. Even the concession stand workers are wonderful at being patient with each athlete who comes through the line. The interaction is amazing to watch and so fun to be a part of.
I also spent one day volunteering for a Walk for Autism at the Kansas City Speedway. I was part of the accounting group for the day, so I was fortunate enough to be snug inside while others were out in the cold in tents. Our group was in charge of counting all the donation money that was brought to us in envelopes. It was simply stunning to see the large amounts of money that people had gathered. This cause was not only to support autistic programs but also to find a cure for autism. For almost five hours I sat with five other women counting over thirty thousand dollars worth of donations. It was incredible to see the large numbers come in. This type of fundraiser is one that takes place all over the nation. This volunteer project is one that I would be very enthusiastic to help with again, and hope to in the near future.
Many people chose to volunteer with children or with churches or with a nature sanctuary. These are all selfless acts and will count towards service learning hours. Yet I believe that Special Olympics can truly change a person’s life for the better. Not only can lessons of friendship, kindness, understanding, and patience be learned, but the athletes are strongly affected as well. Each athlete can only become stronger with a new friend and with new interactions every day. Most of these athletes are solely full of love and giving. I know from personal experience, since Jane can never seem to give enough hugs. It is a lovely feeling to know that we have impacted someone’s life so drastically.