Rachel Antal is a freshman at the University of Central Missouri. She is a SOMO volunteer and president of our Youth Activation Committee.
Special Olympics is the only place I know where you can meet someone and then the next day be joking around and feel just like a family. When I was introduced to the rest of the Youth Activation Committee (YAC), that is exactly what it felt like. We’re a small group of teenagers who all share the same passion of unifying their schools between those with intellectual disabilities and those without and just making our communities a little bit better.
I was raised around Special Olympics my whole life, attending events as soon as I was born. Everyone in my small school knew how I felt about it and they didn’t question it. In high school, I was involved in clubs like Student Council and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. I didn’t realize how sheltered some people were when it came to those different from them. There were several Special Olympics athletes in my high school and some people weren’t sure how to react. To me it was no big deal when Josh wanted to give a hug or when the others would come up to me in the hallway, but to others it was strange. Since I was the president of FCCLA my senior year, I made it my goal to start the Spread the Word to End the Word program. I made signs and announcements over the intercom but some people didn’t accept it. My friends and many people in the school stopped using the word and by the end of the year everyone was talking to Josh, Tyler and the other athletes making them feel more comfortable in the school. It was hard to raise awareness about the “r-word” but every now and then someone will write me on Facebook and tell me about how they find themselves telling others to stop using it. This makes me feel good because if I got one person to stop using it, I have made a difference. I got members of the student council to take the Polar Plunge with me. Even though there were only 8 others on my team besides myself, we still raised over $800 all together.
Now I am in my freshman year of college at the University of Central Missouri. I have been given the challenge of spreading the word all over again because this time it’s worse. Not only do students use it but also teachers. I am also the YAC president this year, which has given me so much positivity to approach people and open up their eyes to those with intellectual disabilities. My friends here have already started removing the r-word from their vocabulary but it’s the teachers and the other students that will be tricky. Recently I attended the South Central Conference for the Youth Activation Summit, which gave me a whole new outlook on why I want to unify my college so much. Jenny Newbury from Get Into It spoke to us and she gave an example by handing us each a card from the deck. She then said a random card and that person had to face away, then the next had to put their head down and so on. At the end of it she said we wouldn’t do this to people for no reason so why do we judge those different then us for no reason. During that weekend I got to grow with my YAC family and I never wanted to leave them. It makes me sad that everyone can’t experience the love that I do with Special Olympics.
I am so thankful for being a YAC member and working with the rest of my committee to change our schools. Special Olympics has given me a place to feel included and a family that I would never trade. The athletes inspire to keep a positive attitude everyday and to continue to unify.