About Special Olympics Missouri

Promoting acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities through sports.

Laura Speed Elliott Middle School students raise money for Special Olympics through coin wars

On May 22, an EF3 tornado tore through Jefferson City, destroying our athletic field and damaging the roof and most interior spaces at the Training for Life Campus.

Due to the extensive damage, the students and staff at Laura Speed Elliott Middle School in Boonville participated in a Coin War to raise money for Special Olympics Missouri.

 During the Coin War, six SOMO athletes were invited to come and share their talents. Laura Speed Elliott Middle School enjoyed watching the athletes and learning more about this great organization. The students and staff donated several coins and $1,068.52 (including two larger donations from W-K Boonville and Equipment Share) was raised to be donated to help SOMO rebuild. Students celebrated with an assembly including a bid check presentation with SOMO staff members and a speech from SOMO athlete and Hall of Famer, Robb Eichelberger.

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Below is a Q&A with the school’s principal, Leslie Reardon, a teacher at the school, Laurie Painter, and student, Maggie Schuster.

Why did you all chose to do this fundraiser?

Principal Reardon (PR): I was listening to Clear99 when they did their radioathon for Jeff city and its victims. I was able to listen to a lady share about the new building and the damage done to it. We had wanted our students to give back with a project during summer school and this looked like a great fit.

What did the fundraiser consist of/how did it work?

Maggie (MS): It was a coin war. The coins are positive and bills are negative. We brought in coins and had bins with teacher’s names on them.  You put your coins in the teacher’s bin who you wanted to get a pie in the face.

Ms. Painter (MP): The way I won: The teacher with the most money at the end of the 3 days would get a pie in the face.  Obviously, the students loved me (or wanted to see me get a pie in the face) and put almost $200 in my bucket.  I then got, not one but two pies in the face.  It was so much fun!!!

Why did you/the students pick SOMO? 

PR: We have several staff who volunteer with Special Olympics, as well as staff and students who work with individuals with intellectual disabilities. I knew this would be a cause everyone would rally for.

What does it mean to the students? 

PR: The students loved it. We had 6 adults who participate in Special Olympics come share and show their talents. The students cheered them on and that gave us goosebumps hearing our students cheer the 6 adults with disabilities on. The students got so fired up, the money kept coming in on Thursday even though the Coin War was over Wednesday.

MS: It made us happy and thankful that we were able to help out.  We like to be helpful when we can help out with things like this.

What did the students learn about SOMO through this process? 

PR: Besides having the six athletes visit, we had coaches share about their experience. We also had Robb Eichelberger talk about being a Hall of Famer and the students watched several video clips shared with us by SOMO staff member Crystal Schuster.

MS: Yes, we learned that there are more than 16,000 athletes in Special Olympics Missouri and we learned that Robb Eichelberger played a lot of different sports and he told us the things he does to prepare himself for events.

About how many students/teachers participated in this fundraiser?  

PR: We had 100 students and 15 staff members participate. Plus, we had two local business also contribute (W-K Boonville $200 and Equipment Share $350).

coin war

Why is Special Olympics Special to you? 

MS: Because I enjoy seeing all the athletes working so hard to win and achieve all their goals that they have set.  It really puts a smile on my face when they are smiling and having fun while competing in the sports they love.  My friend, Jillian, competes and I have met many other friends in Special Olympics – like Sarah Byland, Robb Eichelberger, and Morgan.

MP: I chose to be part of the fundraiser because Special Olympics has always been important to me.  I was raised with an aunt that had down syndrome and I loved to spend time with her.  She was always so happy and loving.  She participated in Special Olympics when I was a kid and she absolutely loved it. Being part of the fundraiser meant a lot to me.  I really did it as an honor to my Aunt Carolyn that passed away a few years ago.  It brought back great memories of her.

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Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid Supports Special Olympics Missouri

Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid has partnered with Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) to promote the statewide organization through a series of public service announcements.

“I believe in this organization and the positive work it does to help thousands of people across the state of Missouri,” said Reid. “The athletes’ dedication, effort and positive attitude are an inspiration to so many people, including me.”

The first installment of PSAs features five Special Olympics athletes along with Coach Reid explaining the impact of a tornado on SOMO’s Training for Life Campus in Jefferson City. In one version, Coach Reid calls on “Chiefs Kingdom and all Missourians” to find out how they can get involved in supporting the reconstruction of the campus by directing them to SOMOcampus.org.

“Coach Reid’s messages come at a crucial time as we begin to repair the damages from the tornado,” said SOMO President & CEO Susan Stegeman. “We appreciate his support as he helps bring awareness to our athletes and our program needs.”

There are radio and television versions available, as well as photos from the PSA taping. Media outlets across the state are encouraged to run it on their stations. Additional versions, with the overall focus on SOMO’s mission, will be available in the coming months. Coach Reid also taped direct messages for Special Olympics Missouri athletes, volunteers and coaches.

Athlete-Leader guest post: My experience at the United Nations

This blog post was written by athlete-leader and SOMO board of directors member Jared Niemeyer. In June, Niemeyer attended the United Nations 12th Conference of State Parties to the Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). Below he recounts his experience at the UN and why he thinks the Special Olympics movement can make a huge difference around the world.

UN picture of Jared at microphone

What if, because of your intellectual or physical disability, you weren’t allowed to attend school, to get a job, or even participate in your community?  Many developing countries do not have policies like we do in the United States, thanks to the American Disabilities Act.

Many people do not have the same opportunities that we do. In the United States we have the opportunity for an inclusive education, competitive employment and unified living in our communities. I’m so grateful for the opportunities we have as citizens in the United States. It’s important that we work together to keep and promote those rights for every person in every country. I can’t imagine never having the opportunities I’ve had – in school, at work, in my community, as a voter, and as a Special Olympics athlete, because those things have all made me a better version of myself. I want every person to have those opportunities, so that everyone can reach their full potential.

Special Olympics promotes awareness and inclusion in 172 countries. Special Olympics works with more than 5 million athletes,  and 1 million coaches and volunteers around the world.  Special Olympics promotes inclusion and a sense community through sports; it promotes that every individual should be accepted, regardless of their ability. Together we can make our world a better place by working and playing unified. This is what is done around the world and in every community where there are Special Olympics athletes and programs!

On June 10, 2019, I had the opportunity to be one of five Special Olympics athletes allowed to speak in New York City at the United Nations 12th Conference of State Parties to the Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD).  The panel topic was “The Revolution is Inclusion: Sport as a Catalyst for Social Inclusion.”

The moderator was Dustin Plunkett, a Special Olympics athlete from California, who is alive today because of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program.  Plunkett served as a commentator with ESPN during World Games and at other Special Olympics events!  The other panelists were Nyasa Derera of Zimbabwe, Emanuelle de Souze of Brazil, Tajha Ilerant of Florida and Chaica Al Qassimi of the United Arab Emirates.

It was an honor to get acquainted with each of these athletes and work together to share our perspective on inclusion.  Without the experience of inclusive opportunities, we would not be able to share with those at the U.N. our perspective on why disability policy is critical for every country to offer its citizens.  The disabled population is a valuable resource in every community; every one of us has something to offer!  Each individual can impact their world in a positive way if just given the opportunity to shine.

I’m so grateful that Special Olympics strives to impact our world through focusing on every individual’s ABILITIES and fights for inclusion every day.  Thank you Special Olympics for the opportunities you promote for athletes around the world – so that we can learn and grow through new experiences, gain new skills, be empowered to advocate for ourselves and for others, and to work together to make our world a better place!

You can watch my United Nations panel discussion here.

You can also read more about my experiences at the UN in this story my local newspaper wrote about me.

Panel, missing Dustin Plunkett

 

Special Olympics Missouri receives designation as an official Healthy Community

On Thursday, July 18, Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) received designation as an official “Healthy Community!” SOMO is now one of 19 organizations internationally recognized by Special Olympics International (SOI) with this distinction. This is a huge accomplishment for SOMO.

“Special Olympics Missouri is committed to ensuring those with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to thrive in every area of their life,” said Meagan Davis, SOMO Health & Wellness Manager. In our first year as a Healthy Community we have had the opportunity to develop and implement new programs, increase the number of free health screenings we provide, and incorporate overall health and wellness into every area of Special Olympics. We look forward to continuing to develop and grow our programs and community partnerships to ensure we are doing our part to create overall inclusive healthy communities for all.”

The Healthy Community grant is comprised of a three-year grant cycle in which SOMO will receive $50,000 annually for three years by striving to meet six criteria presented by SOI. In year one, SOMO fully met all six criteria distinguishing SOMO as a Healthy Community. Criterion five states that 20% of athletes in our geographical focus area have to be enrolled in on-going 6- 8 week health & wellness programs. Unlike other states, because of the Training for Life Campus, SOMO slated the geographical area as the entire state. Most states and international programs just have a smaller urban or rural focus group, making this an even greater accomplishment for Missouri!

This means that SOMO had to have a minimum of 978 athletes in on-going health & wellness programs during year one. In 2018, SOMO had 1,005 enrolled in on-going 6-8 week heath & wellness programs.

SOMO also has to provide at least three Healthy Athletes screening disciplines per year with a minimum of 150 screenings within the geographical area. In 2018, SOMO fully met these criteria with 1,457 screenings provided. SOMO worked diligently to make sure that athletes not only had access to screenings, but were also linked to follow-up care through the referral program. SOI indicated that most programs do not fully meet all criteria until year two or year three, and that becoming a Healthy Community in year one is extremely impressive.

“To know that more individuals with intellectual disabilities throughout Missouri are living healthier lives because they have access to health & wellness opportunities provided by Special Olympics, is one of our organization’s greatest accomplishments,” said Mary Niswonger, SOMO Partnership Director.

Please contact Meagan Davis at 573-819-6203, or Mary Niswonger at 573-579-6040, for more information.

The Impact of Young Athletes

 Editor’s note: This session of Young Athletes concluded in early May 2019. On May 22, an EF3 tornado tore through Jefferson City, destroying our athletic field and damaging the roof and most interior spaces at the Training for Life Campus. The campus is now closed for extensive repairs which are expected to take many months to complete. Visit http://www.somocampus.org for updates on the #SOMORebuild.

In early 2007, Special Olympics created the Young AthletesTM program to reach out to children ages 2 to 7, with intellectual disabilities, and to welcome them and their families to the Special Olympics movement.

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For the past several months, students from Southwest Early Childhood Center in Jefferson City have been coming to the Training for Life Campus to participate in the Special Olympics Missouri Young Athletes program. Southwest Early Childhood Center provides special education programs to assist children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities and developmental delays.

Sarah Wilding, principal of Southwest Early Childhood Center, said they partnered with Special Olympics Missouri in 2010 in conjunction with the Torch Run. At that event, they participated in a one-day program on the front lawn of the capitol – it was called Young Athletes.

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Young Athletes introduces basic sport skills, such as running, kicking and throwing. The program offers families, teachers, caregivers and people from the community the chance to share the joy of sports with all children.

“It was such a wonderful experience for our children to engage in the physical and social activities,” Wilding said.

“Our partnership with Special Olympics is important because it lets families know that Special Olympics exists and it gets kids and families comfortable with the facilities here so that as they get older maybe they will participate in some of the Special Olympics games and the different opportunities that they have,” said Lisa Wieberg, a teacher at Southwest Early Childhood Center.

With the opening of the Training for Life Campus in Jefferson City in September 2018, Special Olympics Missouri has been able to provide more services and resources, and host more programs for our athletes, such as Young Athletes. This facility is the first of its kind in the world, with the purpose of enriching the lives of athletes with intellectual disabilities through sport, health and leadership opportunities. It was built to inspire a new drive in our athletes so that they may continue to develop their physical and social skills.

“It’s a place we didn’t have before, where kids can come and where things are modified and there are accommodations made so that they can participate in activities that they may not be able to do at other places in our community,” Wieberg said.

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Wilding said, “When Special Olympics opened their training center…we actually really jumped at the chance to partner with Special Olympics because it’s such an amazing program and such an amazing facility.”

Young Athletes provides children with activities and games that meet their individual skill and ability levels, while allowing them to play together in a fun and inclusive environment. The program shows that all children should be valued for their talents and abilities.

“It’s an opportunity for our children to come out and participate in the physical development activities, to practice their language skills, their social skills, to those taking-turns things that are so important,” Wilding said. “But it’s not just the kids that are gaining from this, if you look at the smiling faces on these adults, they’re having fun with the children, they’re practicing skills in a real life meaningful way.”

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Through Young Athletes, volunteers introduce young children to the world of sport, with the goal of preparing them for Special Olympics Missouri sports training and competition at age 8.

“For a lot of our families this is an opportunity for them to get to know the broad range of services that are available through Special Olympics because for some of our families this will be a lifelong relationship with Special Olympics,” Wilding said. “It’s really a great opportunity for our children and our families to get out in the community and know what’s available for them.”

The program focuses on the basics that are crucial to cognitive development: physical activities that develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and the application of these physical skills through sports skills programs.

“My daughter Deandra Mckaye has been attending the Special Olympics Young Athletes program for over a month now and it has been great with her development because she has had some physical challenges in the past and so this program has really helped her to overcome those challenges,” said Dianna Mckaye, parent of a young athlete.

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Children learn how to play with others and develop important skills for learning. Children also learn to share, take turns and follow directions. These skills help children in family, community and school activities.

“I very much appreciate the opportunity for him to come and get to play and participate in sports,” said Heather Heidbreder, parent of a young athlete. “He has a hard time with language skills and listening to directions, so having an adaptive program like this where he can play with his peers and participate in team sports, it means the world to us. I am just very happy that we have this facility here and that my son is able to participate in these sports and I hope that we continue to have these opportunities available for other children like my son so that they can learn what it’s like to be in sports.”

Torrence Malone, parent of a young athlete, said Young Athletes is a fun way for children to get fit. He said it is important to teach children healthy habits while they are young.

“The Young Athletes program has helped my son Carter build teamwork with other children and learn how to be a teammate,” said Malone. “I believe it’s a great program because if it wasn’t for the Special Olympics Young Athletes program, some of these kids probably wouldn’t even be active.”

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Special Olympics Missouri served more than 1,450 young athletes in 2018. For many of their families, this is their first introduction to the resources and support Special Olympics offers for children (and adults) with intellectual disabilities.

“Special Olympics is really here as a resource,” said Susan Shaffer, Program and Outreach Director for Special Olympics Missouri. “At an early age, we have so much that we can offer them to see what their child can do. Special Olympics is a lifelong (partnership), from sports to our leadership program, these are the things we can start when they are young. I really want the parents to know that it’s through sports that behaviors change, they become stars. I want the parents that come into the building to know that we are here for them to help them and not just in Special Olympics, but in life.”

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Through Young Athletes, all children, their families and people in the community can be a part of building an inclusive team together.

Young Athletes helps lead children into a bright new world of sports and social skills — one full of pride and possibility.

Mckaye said, “I think this is a very good program for children with special needs. I would recommend this program to anybody and everybody.”

SOMO participants play part in northwest Missouri flood recovery

During the month of March, mid-western towns along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers battled unseasonably heavy rainfall and rising river levels. One area hit particularly hard by the flooding was northwest Missouri.

In late March, the Missouri River in the St. Joseph area crested at levels just below that of the historic 1993 flood. Heavy, above-average rainfall for the month coupled with snowmelt to the north were to blame. St. Joseph and Buchanan County issued mandatory evacuations near two levees that couldn’t hold back the waters.

I-29 in Missouri at mile marker 57 has been closed since March 19 because of the flooding in the area and subsequent repairs that the Iowa and Missouri Departments of Transportation have been doing along the border.

The last weekend in March, Special Olympics Missouri was set to host its largest state competition, the State Indoor Games, in St. Joseph. While the majority of the city was left untouched, many people in the surrounding areas were affected.

“While our pantry (in St. Joseph) didn’t see much of an increase (in people coming in because of the flooding), our pantries in Holt County and Atchison did see increases,” said Charity Tarr, food sourcing coordinator for Second Harvest Community Food Bank.

Special Olympics Missouri’s competition, March 29-30 in bowling and basketball, was set to bring in more than 3,000 athletes, coaches and family members to the area, when one coach from Hannibal, Kathy Butler, thought of a way her athletes could help people affected by the flooding.

Butler reached out to SOMO’s competition organizers and asked if it were possible to have everyone traveling into town from all over the state to bring at least one non-perishable food item with them.

“I kept thinking what SOMO could do to help as St. Joe has been so gracious to host our State Indoor Games,” Butler said. “Then I remembered the flood of 1993 and how my parents and I took donated food from central Indiana to Alton, Ill.

“My athletes, like all SOMO athletes, are very giving and loving people, so why not ask them to bring food to St. Joe to help others?”

Butler’s challenge to her athletes was communicated to everyone attending the State Indoor Games and in total, SOMO participants donated 662 pounds of food to the Second Harvest Community Food Bank.

“With this donation we were able to make disaster boxes for people who did come to the pantry,” Tarr said. “Because of your donation, 552 meals were donated to people displaced because of the flood. We greatly appreciate your support; thank you.”

Butler said she didn’t have any expectations in terms of how much food they would bring in, but when she heard the total, she was blown away.

“Special Olympics Missouri has touched so many lives through the athletes, volunteers, coaches and families,” she said. “How amazing that our SOMO family came together and gave back to a community who has had hard times.

“I hope we left an impact on the community, especially in our motto, ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ Hopefully the area can be brave in the circumstances that they are in and overcome this situation.”

Guest post: Athlete-leader Lynna Hodgson’s Q&A with former, new SOMO CEOs

Hodgson, Lynna_TrackLynna Hodgson is an athlete-leader from Lee’s Summit. She writes on her personal blog and we highlight those posts from time to time. This is a re-post from her April 25 blog.

I had some questions for the old CEO and for the new CEO of Special Olympics Missouri. First up is Mark Musso. Here are the questions I asked:

1. Do you have any advice for the next CEO?

MMHire the best people on staff, move staff who aren’t good fits off the team. Always work to make the games better each and every year. When considering various issues, always do what is best for the Athletes and do so by including Athletes in leadership positions throughout the organization.

2.  Are you planning to come back to some SOMO events:

MMIn the years to come you will certainly see me at some SOMO events, probably as a Fan in the Stands.

3. What are you planning to do with your retirement?

MM: Travel, fish, golf, attend many concerts, most of all spend time with my family- especially my grand kids.

4. When you first got this job, did you expect that you would be the CEO for SOMO as long you did?

MM: Great question, I promised the search committee I would stay 3 years. Needless to say I did so 9 times. While I had multiple offers to run other Special Olympics programs- I realized I wanted to be part of SOMO which I believe is one of the premier programs in the world.

blogtouch_picture_15db5618_ed14_db12_f46a_2f67acb1d6205. What are your messages to all of the SOMO athletes, coaches, and staff?

MMRemember SOMO is your organization- YOU can make it the best in the world if you all work together and agree to always improve on each and every event & programs. Most importantly- do what is besot for the athletes!

6. When was your first day of being the CEO for Special Olympics Missouri, and when was your last day?

MM: My first day was September 1, 1991 and my last day was March 31, 2019.  Exactly 27.5 years to the day.

And next up is new SOMO President & CEO, Susan Stegeman.

DSC_4893 (Copy)1. What does it mean to you that you are the new CEO for SOMO? And what does CEO stands for?

SS: It means a lot to me personally, because I want to do a good job for you and your fellow athletes.  I take responsibility very seriously. As CEO, I want to ensure our team has the resources, skills and training to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.  I want SOMO to continue to grow – we need to grow our family if we want to serve more athletes.  CEO stands for Chief Executive Officer

2.What are some of your goals when your job starts?

SS: Within the first 100 days, I will be on my “listen and learn” tour to determine trends, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  I will visit with each staff person, and some volunteers to learn what we need to do to grow.  I will also be focused on learning about the inner workings of the board and how to support this important group of volunteers.  My job started on April 1, 2019

3. Is there something that Mark has said to you that is important to you?

SS: He stressed that he’s always known me to do the right thing and as long as it’s the best thing for the athletes, it’s the right thing.

4. Has Mark given you any advice? If so, what were they?

SSHave fun.  Move into his office sooner, than later.  I did on Day #2

5.Is there anything you want to say to the athletes, the coaches and the staff?

SS: Thank you for being on the SOMO Team!

Athletes – you are our heroes; your spirit and determination make the world a better place.  Keep shining!

Coaches – thank you for your dedication and for being the best volunteers in the movement.  Keep inspiring!

Other volunteers – thank you for helping make our program and events possible!  Keep serving!

Staff – thank you for your commitment to carry the mission forward.  Remember to dream big!

Together Everyone Achieves More!

  1. Are you excited? What are the most memorable moment that you have experienced in SOMO?

SS: I am excited to learn and stretch my skills.  At the end of May I will celebrate being on staff for 29 years.  I never thought I would say that.  I’ve enjoyed the variety of my work every day.  Working with law enforcement to raise awareness and funds has taught me so much about teamwork, the human spirit, setting goals.   Being asked to carry the torch into the Opening Ceremony along with LETR Founder Ralph Biele and Athlete of the Year Lucas Blattel – was the best!  It is so cool what law enforcement does on a daily basis for our communities and then what they do for SOMO on top of that – to be given the honor of carrying the flame to light the cauldron.  It’s one of my most cherished memories!