Sargent Shriver was buried today. Reviewing his many accomplishments (the Peace Corps, Special Olympics, Headstart) made me wonder. Has your life been touched in any personal way by these wonderful programs? Any Peace Corps veterans among us?
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One of my earliest fieldwork experiences in college was at Head Start. I remember thinking what a wonderful program it was. The idea that preschool could balance the inequities in education is a good one. I am not sure that this is actually always the case, but it does these kids a lot of good to get some socialization experience before they get to elementary school.
Special Olympics has a place in my heart, too. I have shared the joy of students who participated as athletes, and I have shared the joy of students who participated as volunteers during the events. In the spring, I always adjusted my lesson plans, knowing that many of my students would be absent the day of the Special Olympics because they had signed up to help. They always returned to class bubbling over with excitement, full of stories of how great their experiences had been. Special Olympics enriches the lives of everyone involved.
I would agree that Special Olympics has a place in my heart. Working with Special Education students on a daily basis you can really see what Special Olympics means to these young boys and girls. Our area is less active now than it has been in the past but the students that do participate are extremely proud of their accomplishments.
I have always balked at some of the politically-correct language we have accepted into our every day speech, but I think Special Olympics might be one institution that brings to mind an expression that I can let slide. These athletes are no different in how much they want to succeed and accomplish their goals, they are just "differently-abled" in how they will go about that. But aren't we all? The Special Olympics is special indeed!
Special Olympics has been very active in our school and community for decades. The entire student body actively fundraises for it every November with a penny drive before Thanksgiving break, and we have had some unqualified success stories among our alumni. Talk about a program that is just pure goodness and altruism! Well done, and rest in peace, Sargent Shriver.
Both Headstart and the Special Olympics are important to a nearby community which has three Federal housing projects and a Helen Keller School. Students who have attended Headstart clearly have learned many more things than they would have without it. In addition to academic knowledge, the children are taught manners and respect for adults. As high school students they yet remember all the little songs and rhymes they learned.
The Special Olympics is front page news in the town as there are numerous events. One event held every year is a powerlifting competition run by a former State Champion who works at the Helen Keller School; many of the deaf and blind are amazingly strong! And their faces light up so when they have succeeded at their lifts.
I had a wonderful experience when I was in high school with the Special Olympics. They held the event one year at my school and I remember running around with the young man that I was placed with and how everything we did together was significant to him. He had so much fun and it made a wonderful impression on me.
We have a "Best Buddies" program at my school, which is a program that places students from the upper grades with the students in the Life Skills program that are mentally challenged. All of the kids learn so much. The regular ed. students that are involved in the program are extremely polite and considerate. You can almost guess which students are involved. They participate annually with the Special Olympics and as a teacher in the school it's very nice to see. The fact that this program has succeeded for generations is a testament to its importance!
My experience of the Peace Corps is from the other side. There were lots of Peace Corps volunteers on the island where I grew up. The way they were seen there shows how hard it is for well-intentioned programs to work right.
There seemed to me (caveat -- I was a kid and so my opinions were those of a kid and were also driven by what my friends and parents thought) that there were two kinds of Peace Corps volunteers. There were the ones who "went native" and walked around barefoot and in local clothing. People laughed at them for trying to pretend to be native. Then there were the ones who thought they knew it all. Like the one who told people who had been raising pigs all their lives that they should listen to him because he had 6 weeks intensive training in pigs. (He probably knew more than they did in terms of modern knowledge, but he did a bad job of presenting himself.) Anyway, it could be that there were many other volunteers who didn't fall in these categories, but I didn't notice them.
As far as the other programs go, I think Special Olympics is the most unambiguous success. Having done some volunteering with the program, it is clearly something that means a lot to the people who participate. There's nothing to criticize about it, from my point of view. The participants seem so joyful and it seems so important to them to get the opportunity to participate.
During high school, I as a chaperon for a group of kids who went to our state's Special Olympics competition. One day the chaperons were going through the lunch line with the athletes and somewhere up ahead the fire alarm went off. When we go to that spot in line, we had to laugh because the alarm said pull, and someone literally had done just that. The point of the story, and one I think the Special Olympics has always promoted, is that we are all different. We think differently; we perceive things differently; we excel differently. However, we are all equal.
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