This is a guest blog entry from Allison D’Agostino, SOMO’s 2014 Outstanding Athlete, who attended the Indiana Athlete Leadership Programs University in March. ALPs University is a program that encompasses Global Messenger and teaches our athletes how to become leaders not just in the Special Olympics movement, but in their communities as well. Allison traveled to Indiana with SOMO staff members and a volunteer from Springfield because Indiana’s program is one of the best in the country. We are so thankful for their hospitality and can’t want to put on our very first ALPs University in fall 2015.

Going to Indianapolis last month was totally worth missing the swimmer’s area meet. I and a few staff went to the Indiana ALPs University to represent Missouri. We learned so much about the athletes, coaches and staff in Indiana. I look forward to when Missouri has a branch of the ALPs University.

In case you didn’t know, ALPs is short for Athlete Leadership Programs. Any Indiana athlete may join. They get together twice a year and take classes to advance their skills in becoming Special Olympic leaders, or any leader they choose to be. The athletes have several choices as to which class to take — whether it be Videography and Photography, Global Messenger (1 or 2), Introduction to Athlete Leadership, Powerpoint, and so much more. With Global Messenger, they get to be representatives and speakers for Special Olympics Indiana.

From left, Jacob Conklin (volunteer), Mary Bauer (SOMO staff member) and Allison D'Agostino pose for a photo during the Athlete Input Council.

From left, Jacob Conklin (volunteer), Mary Bauer (SOMO staff member) and Allison D’Agostino pose for a photo during the Athlete Input Council.

As short as the trip was, I had a lot of fun. I got to meet so many people. I was able to record footage in the Videography and Photography class that I will be combining both videos and uploading it on my YouTube channel. One of the things that I absolutely love about the ALPs University is that there was an Athlete Input Council meeting before the first class. This class allows athletes to talk openly and freely about what they like about the program and what they think can be improved. I found it absolutely inspirational.

A lot of the athletes spoke their minds and added many things on the list of ideas they had. The final tally was more than 40 ideas! While the athletes kept listing off more to add, Special Olympics Indiana CEO Mike Furnish, who was taking notes of all of the suggestions, encouraged them for more and even teased and picked on me throughout the council. He seriously wanted me to speak my mind, so that my thoughts could be count as input, and that was fun!

Towards the end, he finally managed to get me to say something. At that point, all the athletes were inspiring me. In fact, it almost brought tears to my eyes. I loved every moment being in that auditorium. It made me realize that the ALPs University needed to be all over the country, not just Missouri. So I stood after he pointed at me and said, “I think that ALPs University should have branches all over the country, including Missouri.” Before I could even sit down, a lot of the people in the audience applauded.

From left, Brandon Schatsiek (SOMO staff member), Allison, Jacob and Mary pose for a photo with parting gifts from SO Indiana at the conclusion of the weekend.

From left, Brandon Schatsiek (SOMO staff member), Allison, Jacob and Mary pose for a photo with parting gifts from SO Indiana at the conclusion of the weekend.

My trip to the ALPs University really affected me. It has put so many thoughts in my mind as to how to make Special Olympics Missouri better and improve. Not very many athletes in my state are involved in becoming leaders. I want to be more than a Global Messenger, more than a leader. I look forward to us having an ALPs University not just because we need it, but also because us athletes have so much potential in our disabled and/or able-bodied selves.

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