Finding a home

Ashley Dawson is Special Olympics Missouri’s Social Media Coordinator and has been on staff for four years. She can be reached at dawson@somo.org.

When you work for Special Olympics, you are often asked how you got involved with the organization. Well, my story goes a little something like this.

Five years ago, I had just moved to Columbia. I was in a new state, and at a new school, and I knew no one. This was WAY outside my comfort zone. I had just spent three years at the University of Nebraska. Back in Nebraska, I had friends and a fiance; in Columbia I was slowly making a few friends and living on my own for the first time. Even though I had only dabbled in volunteering in college, I felt the need to fill my evenings with some type of organization and the City of Columbia website had a listing for Special Olympics basketball practice helpers. I knew basketball! I could help coach or do drills or anything they asked. So I went, and while I don’t remember what I expected exactly, or if I even knew who Special Olympics served as a population, I remember only feeling a bit uncertain that I wouldn’t find the right person to tell them I was there to volunteer. I felt a bit like I didn’t belong, in the way most people do when everyone else seems to know what is going on, except you.

That feeling didn’t last long. I quickly got assigned to a team. I helped each Monday night at a women’s five-on-five practice. It was just an hour, but these girls were so great. I loved hearing them chat about their day, about the crush they have or how hard work was that day. These girls were a range of about 16-40, but mostly just young adult women. Before I knew it, I was coaching my very own three-on-three team. Those memories are so fond to me. The excitement of making a basket in a game, the silliness of make-believe animals during practice, and the caring friendship they offered me and each other. I wanted to be a constant, positive force in their lives, and they certainly were for me.

From volunteer, to coach, to intern, to employee – Special Olympics has offered me a family I didn’t know I was looking for, a place to grow in character, and friendships that endure. Special Olympics has given me a true home away from home.

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