There’s a lot more to life than teeth, and in recent months I have had the privilege of trying something new as a volunteer for Special Olympics New Jersey. This was something I had always thought about, but somehow had just not gotten-around to actually doing. I would like to tell you about my experience.
I think the most important thing I realized at my first event was that I had waited too long to finally get involved. Riding home after that day’s activities, I was overcome by a feeling that this particular day of my life had been very different than just another day checked-off on the calendar. I had done something I had never done before, with people I had never met before, in order to accomplish something which was very productive. And, it had been fun doing it!
What else did I realize? First, I was amazed by the sheer numbers of Special Athletes at these events. It was a reminder to me that there are so many people in this world who face daunting challenges in everyday living because of some difference in physical or cognitive ability. They, along with their families and friends, need to make the best of those differences every single hour of every single day – not just when the rest of us happen to notice. Next, I saw that the term different abilities is not just a euphemism for disabilities, as I used to assume. Every Athlete I saw was indeed special – but not because of what some would say are problems or shortcomings; they were special because they are defined by what they can do and not what they can’t do. Perhaps my most striking discovery, however, was the attitudes of the athletes: they were happy to be there and were fully involved in the moment. Participation for them was not some consolation prize in the game of life, but was as important as anything other people might do for fun or entertainment or companionship – and my being there with them was not some sacrifice on my part but actually a privilege!
I was emotionally moved by seeing the friends and families of the athletes at these events. They all beamed with the pride, love, and support they felt for their Special Athlete, and the look in their eyes reflected their lifetime of commitment to their loved one.
The organization and operation of the Special Olympics events is also very impressive, and because of this it is easy for a volunteer to fit in and participate. These events are extremely well-run and are seriously devoted to making the competitions safe, fair, and fun. Special Olympics is one of the best-run organizations of any kind that I know of, and because of this it has wonderful partnerships with sponsors, donors, and volunteers. A great role is also filled by the businesses who donate their facilities for the events – from Ski Areas to Bowling Centers, these partners close-down all or part of their operations to the paying public and instead dedicate their facility to a Special Olympics Event for the day.
Would you like to have a good day doing something fun that will make you laugh, make you think, and put you together with warm, welcoming people? Consider volunteering for an event with Special Olympics New Jersey. There are many events all throughout the year all over the state. If you have some particular skill in some sport or have some other valuable experience, that’s great; however, if you don’t have any relevant skill or experience they will still find something useful and fulfilling for you to do. To get started, visit their website: www.sonj.org. There you will find information about upcoming events, available positions, and how to sign up.
Another thing: if you are worried that this is one of those deals where after you sign up the first time with an organization they pester you for more time or money or commitment for years to come, forget that concern – it just isn’t that way, I promise!
What’s the biggest problem you will have after you volunteer the first time? Well, it will be an overwhelming itch to do it again. And, like me, once you find the time for the first time it will be easier to find the time again. Do it, you won’t regret it!