Eichelberger, Schwartze Inducted into SOMO Hall of Fame

On Jan. 1IMG_50537, Special Olympics Missouri announced that Central Area athlete Robb Eichelberger and Zim Schwartze, Director of 911 Emergency Communications and SOMO volunteer, would be inducted into the SOMO Hall of Fame this year. Eichelberger was surprised at the Boonville C & R where he works by family, friends and SOMO staff with the news. Schwartze was surprised at her office following a Games Management Team meeting for SOMO’s State Summer Games.

SOMO can induct up to two athletes and two non-athletes into the Hall of Fame each year.

Eichelberger and Schwartze were recognized alongside the newest inductees to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 29, including St. Louis Cardinals speedster Vince Coleman, Kansas City Royals outfielder Amos Otis, Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney, the Voice of the Missouri Tigers, Mike Kelly, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane (University of Central Missouri baseball), and former Mizzou football coach Warren Powers, among others.

Robb Eichelberger, Athlete
Robb got his start in Special Olympics Missouri when he was in high school in 1998 playing 3 on 3 unified basketball. He was one of the first athletes in Missouri to participate in unified sports. He helped recruit his younger brother, Adam, to be a unified partner. This was really the first time the two had done anything together and through unified sports they were able to form a stronger bond as brothers. From there, Robb grew his participation in sports and eventually became a National Champion in tennis in 2006 at the National Games in Ames, IA. Robb was chosen to compete at the 2011 World Games in tennis, but due to a back injury could not attend and now can only participate in certain sports. He and his golf partner, Ryan Brimer, have been competing together for more than 8 years.

IMG_4982Robb was elected to the SOMO Board of Directors in 2007. He fulfilled all requirements on the board from giving annually to SOMO to volunteering at events. In fact, he was the first SOMO board member in history to have PERFECT attendance. Mark Musso, SOMO President & CEO, created an award in his honor called the “Robb Eichelberger Perfect Attendance Award” which will be given from this point forward to a SOMO board member who has perfect attendance upon completing their term on the Board.

He was one of the first athletes to sign up for the Athlete Leadership Programs University in November 2015 so that he could expand his leadership skills. He chose the communication major so he could face his fear of public speaking in front of large groups.

If you go anywhere with Robb in the Boonville community, he knows everyone and everyone knows him. He has worked at the local grocery store for 16 years, is an active member of the Knights of Columbus, working bingo on Friday nights and is an active member of his church. He was awarded the 2016 Knight of the Year from his council.

Robb has set the bar for other athlete board members and is a true example of what Special Olympics Missouri does for our athletes.

Zim Schwartze, Volunteer
Zim began her passion for Special Olympics Missouri in 1995 through the Law Enforcement Torch Run. She has served in numerous leadership roles within SOMO including Games Management Teams and Plunge Committees. While her love for SOMO began in Columbia she didn’t let her move to Springfield stop her passion/need to be a part of SOMO. She jumped right in as the Games Management Team Chair for the State Summer Games held at Missouri State University and as a member of the Springfield Plunge Committee. She has worked to build a more prominent athlete program in Springfield.

IMG_4986She was recognized as the 2005 Letz award winner – the highest honor in Missouri’s LETR program – and her nominator couldn’t have said it any better when they said “Zim’s devotion to the mission of the Torch Run has resulted in continued significant fund raising both locally and statewide. She is an inspiration to the other officers and she herself is clearly motivated by the elation and pride that she instills in the athletes and all those who benefit from participating in Special Olympics.”

Zim was chosen among her peers to be the final leg runner at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Greece. Then in 2015, she was selected as a route runner for the Unified Relay Across America, running the torch from St. Louis to Colorado for the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles.

Zim’s spirit is contagious and she passes that along to those around her. SOMO athletes are Zim’s #1 priority, and they love her just as much as she loves them. There is nothing better than watching Zim squeal with joy when the athletes come up to give her a hug or a high five. She makes Missouri proud on a daily basis and SOMO is blessed to have her in our family.

For more information or to learn how you can support Special Olympics Missouri, contact Harrison McLean at mclean@somo.org. Information about the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Enshrinement can be found at www.mosportshalloffame.com.

Missouri Association of Student Councils Celebrates 25 Years of Friendship

duck pictureWhat started as a way for youth leaders in Missouri to volunteer their time and learn about inclusion 25 years ago has grown into a relationship between Special Olympics athletes and their peers in hundreds of schools across the state.

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the partnership between The Missouri Association of Student Councils (MASC) and Special Olympics Missouri. To celebrate the 25 years of friendship, MASC held a celebration during their State Convention on March 11 at Platte City High School.

The theme for the celebration was “Stand With.” MASC stands with SOMO to:
• Promote inclusion and accept in their schools
• Volunteer an average of 12,000 hours a year across the state
• As Fans in the Stands at local, area, regional and state events
• Serve in leadership roles on Games Management Teams and Plunge Committees
• Raise funds to support the 15,000 athletes – since 2009 when MASC started making the Plunge their primary fundraising opportunity – they have raised $939,287.85. By 2017, in less than 10 years, they will easily reach the $1 million mark!

Here’s a video that MASC made to celebrate our 25-year friendship.

“Let the celebration continue!” Terri Johnson, MASC Executive Director, says. “MASC feels a sense of pride and accomplishment when we can share we’ve been a SOMO partner for 25 years! From the beginning, our goal was to provide opportunities for our schools to volunteer, but it has grown into so much more. From developing friendships to finding ways to advocate for inclusion and acceptance and assisting with fundraising, our goals have widened. MASC is proud to “Stand With” Special Olympics Missouri! We cherish the opportunity to be a partner and feel our membership has learned the importance of what it means to be a friend to those with intellectual disabilities. We plan to continue our partnership for many years because we realize together we can inspire greatness, serve others, be more and lead!”

Thank you MASC. We are proud to be your friend and partner in making the world a better place for all!

Young Athletes Program Motivates Young Volunteer

It is hard to imagine how something so small could have such a large impact on my life. When I first started to attend the Monday night Young Athlete Program sessions with Special Olympics Missouri, I did not expect much in return. Once you reach a point in your life, you think that people need to be learning from you. At times, although many of us do not like to admit it, we think that we have life figured out. From these Young Athletes, I have gained new perspectives, I have learned many lessons in life, and I have noticed a shift from within myself.

When I first started volunteering on Monday nights, I labeled it as another activity to fit into my busy schedule and into my hectic life. I am not sure why I took this leap and volunteered, but I am grateful that I did. After a few months passed, I gradually started to see a change in myself. I started to count down the minutes to Young Athletes Program. I started to see the athletes improve, and I started to build relationships with the Young Athletes. Young Athletes Program took on a deeper meaning than the typical thought that “it will look good on a college application”.

It is difficult to describe the change in myself I saw after I started volunteering. As a teenager I have this natural tendency to be focused on myself. I constantly thought about my trials, my victories, and my losses. After I started volunteering, there was a shift. I started to help others when they faced a trial, celebrate when they have won, and empathize when they lost. I started to develop this genuine care for others that at a time was so small.

Once I started looking beyond myself, I started to learn the value of accepting others. In the beginning I was not sure how to interact with these athletes. Early on most of what I saw was their disabilities. After hours of volunteering, I see these athletes in a new light. After spending time with these athletes, I saw them as regular kids. All of us have differences, and some of our differences are more visible than others’ differences. Being involved in Special Olympics Missouri has taught me how to be accepting of others differences because in the end the differences do not matter. We are all human. That is enough to treat each other equally and as you would want to be treated.

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Young Athletes and their Whitfield School volunteers at the Young Athletes Program awards ceremony.

The Young Athletes that I have interacted with are truly miracles. With every athlete you can learn something about life or even about yourself if you keep a sensitive, open mind. Every day we are bombarded many different voices telling you how to be happy. These athletes have shown me how to do this. One athlete in particular has pointed me towards happiness. This Young Athlete I worked with this year has really changed my life. This beautiful girl has Down syndrome. Ever since I first met her, I felt drawn to her. I started building a relationship with her. I started noticing her improvements, I had an easier time understanding her, and I noticed how she interacted with the world around her. One of the things that stood out to me is that she is constantly smiling through all of the different ups and downs she is facing internally and externally. Even if she is having a rough day, she is smiling ear to ear. She is laughing, cheering all of her friends on, and giving high fives and hugs. She has given me a new perspective on life.

Spending time with this Young Athlete always gives me energy. Her smiles and giggles are contagious. My mind cannot fully comprehend how she manages to smile even through everything she faces moment to moment. This Young Athlete has given me the courage to overcome my trials. She has shown me the ripple effect of happiness. She helps others smile and laugh, and the people who are smiling and laughing make others smile and laugh. Imagine how different our world would be if we made one other person smile every day. This Young Athlete does not compare herself to others, she does not judge others by external appearance, and she lives a life of simplicity and joy that all of us could learn from.

With the help of Special Olympics Missouri, I have seen a shift within myself. Every day I try to live like this young athlete. Trying to keep a selfless mind has helped me to grow a passion for helping others. The Young Athletes Program has taught me life lessons that even the greatest philosophers could not provide. This program has not only brought me a new passion of working with these young athletes, this program has taught me the importance of serving others, and it has taught me valuable lessons about myself, life, and happiness.

Sydney Smith is a sophomore at Whitfield School in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Smith volunteers with the Young Athletes Program as an extracurricular activity.

Choosing Person-First Language

By: Jacob Conklin

When people ask, and inevitably they do, about how I became involved with Special Olympics and special education I give a canned response based on the audience. It never fails though that someone always asks if it is because of a family member; maybe I have a brother, niece, cousin or even a parent with special needs. When I explain that I do not have a family member with a disability I usually receive the same response from everyone, nodding and saying “oh, okay.” This is followed by them tilting their head slightly with a look of bewilderment. I have always been troubled by this response because I never know how to take it, but at this point I accept that it will happen and move on.

The truth is I am involved in special education because of Special Olympics but there is not one defining factor that set me on this course but there are many AH-HA moments that have propelled me deeper down the rabbit hole. Most people would comment that I am naturally compassionate or maintain superhero levels of patience (I do not by the way, as my students can willing attest), I would say that my natural curiosity and desire to know people was the trait that led me here. To be completely honest, I was the kid, teenager, young adult who stared, gaze fully locked on the person in the wheelchair. This was followed up by a prompt tap on the head and a “stop, you are being rude” by a parent, sibling, teacher or friend. This cycle of natural curiosity matched with an attention getting rap to the head combined with “it’s rude to stare” started a long and twisted association of recognizing people with disabilities as being rude a gesture on my part and thus wrong, punishable by a quick finger strike to my head. As I look back on this mutated association I realize this is probably a typical story for most people. We were young, innocent and curious about the world around us. Incessantly asking our parents questions, “why is the sky blue”, “where do babies come from”, “why does that person use a wheelchair”, “why does he talk funny”, and “why does she look different?” No question was asked with malice or malicious intent, just childlike curiosity.

Jumping ahead two decades I was still the onlooker with hidden curiosity. However, I was too afraid to talk to that person in a wheelchair or anyone who had a visible disability, ashamed to want to know his or her story. It was far better to ignore and be ignorant than be rude. As I found myself toying with the idea of making a second career in the field of special education I discovered a concept that would change the way I perceived my world and how I thought about people with disabilities.

People-first language is a form of linguistic prescriptivism in English, aiming to avoid perceived and subconscious dehumanization when discussing people with disabilities, as such forming an aspect of disability etiquette.

The basic idea is to impose a sentence structure that names the person-first and the condition second, for example “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled people”, in order to emphasize that “they are people first”. Because English syntax normally places adjectives before nouns, it becomes necessary to insert relative clauses, replacing, e.g., “asthmatic person” with “a person who has asthma.” – Wikipedia

A veil had been lifted and I suddenly found solace in the idea that I should see the person before any other condition. It took time to change my language but by forcing myself to change the words I used. I changed my way of thinking about and how I saw people with disabilities. The language eventually became automatic and I began to embrace the curiosity that had been long repressed. No longer was I bound to the chain of thoughts “a disability… I am rude… must ignore”. Person-first language was eye opening and yet so simple, if I consciously change my words it would (and did) lead to me thinking and seeing people before the condition.

“Nick is learning disabled” would be a common phrase in my world of education. It bears no malicious intent but it is a statement with a sense of absoluteness. Saying “Nick IS learning disabled” is saying he is the condition, he is the disability; however using person-first language we would state that “Nick has a learning disability.” The difference is very subtle and to many it may even seem trivial. It was this small change that clicked with me. No longer was I focused on the condition, I could see the person and recognize the condition as an attribute of their whole.

I am not here to tell you how to speak or to assume the role of word police but to simply weave a narrative of how person-first language has been a very useful tool in my life. Person-first language is not the same as being politically correct, person-first language is much (can be) more substantial than just being PC. Full disclosure, I am aware of all the criticisms against using person-first language and how some advocacy groups or disability cultures abhor its use. Again, I am just trying to create a narrative about how utilizing person-first language has been a useful in my experiences.

If you are still with me I am sure you have asked or are asking yourself what does this have to do with Special Olympics. I am writing this menagerie of irreverence in hopes someone somewhere decides to supplement or enhance their Spread the Word program by using person-first language. One of the difficulties I have seen over the last 7 or 8 years of ban the r-word programming is that there is a disconnect between the impassioned few and the ill-informed mass. I have seen teenager and adult alike employ a wide spectrum of strategies to combat the use of the r-word. The disconnect is in us telling someone else they have done and are doing something wrong by using the r-word. People who generally mean well and use the r-word use it much the same reason a habitual swearer uses curse words. They lack a robust enough accessible vocabulary and the r-word much like cuss words easily fill the all those roles of speech, it can serve as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. However, there is also the case of the educated person who still chooses to use it. To this I say we have to change the way people chose their words. I doubt the masses wake up and consciously decide “today I will try and use as many offensive words as possible.” So why are people using the r-word? I think back to times when I have said something I should not have and try to figure why I said it. How did I decide to use the words or words that I let slip from my mouth? I recognize I had control of my actions but I wasn’t consciously selecting each and every individual word that came forth. There was a level of automaticity to it; I knew what was coming or what I wanted to get across but sometimes certain words just come up as we look for other ones.

How do we change how we think or our subconscious word selection? The answer for me was people first language. If you find this as intriguing as I initially did, and continue to, I implore you to give it a try. It may take a few days, weeks, or even months but it has the potential to impact how you see people around you. My hopes are that in time you will share it with the people around you as I have with my students, colleagues, and friends who can attest to its affects.

For further information on

Person-first language:

http://www.disabilityisnatural.com/explore/people-first-language

http://www.thearc.org/page.aspx?pid=2523

Person-first language in writing and journalism

http://www.thearc.org/page.aspx?pid=2523

Linguistic Relativity

http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Sapir%E2%80%93Whorf_hypothesis.html

 Jacob Conklin is a special education teacher at Pleasant Hope R-VI School District in Pleasant Hope, Missouri. Conklin has interned with Special Olympics International and is a Student Council advisor.

 

Soaring Through SOMO

By: Lt. Col. Ray Lauer, SOMO Board Member

If one were to describe my experiences with Special Olympics Missouri as an airplane ride, you might say it was a flight that began uneventfully, but believe me, I predict will have a nice soft landing. I was a cop at the time in a high level position with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Assuredly, I was familiar with Special Olympics because we had a contingent of officers who were participants, in various capacities, supporting the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR). My wife and I donated money to the LETR, purchasing shirts and the like, but as a deputy chief with tremendous responsibilities, I was really busy and didn’t find the time to do more. 

Then one weekend in 1991, the chief asked me to attend a Missouri Police Chiefs meeting at the Lake of the Ozarks, and my wife Bev accompanied me. That entailed attending the Saturday evening banquet that was arranged and sponsored by Special Olympics Missouri. At the conclusion of the meal, we received a true surprise. The program featured a young man, an athlete from the Kansas City area, who revealed how he had participated in Special Olympics, displayed medals he had earned, and told the audience in glowing terms what Special Olympics meant to him and his family. He received a standing ovation. That served as a wake up call. How can anyone be so busy they couldn’t do more to support this wonderful organization? That was my thought, but also a question Bev posed to me while we traveled home. 

The flight had begun. The following week, I called the officers in our department who were most involved in the LETR and informed them of my weekend experience and inquired how I could help. They had several suggestions, one of which was to use my position to encourage other police department personnel to get involved. That was easy. Another idea was for me to join them as members of the Torch Run Committee. That was easy, too. Euphoria followed when I witnessed more clearly how the law enforcement community in St. Louis and throughout Missouri proved to be such a great benefit to the athletes. 

Soon, I was attending athletic contests and witnessing those who were my new heroes, Special Olympics athletes. They were pleased seeing us in our uniforms, when we offered high fives, and hung medals around their necks, but I as an individual was more impressed by their pure joy and dedication at being participants in sporting events. I recognized these tremendously talented individuals had expended a great amount of time and effort as they competed in their respective sports. 

Within several years, there was to be a change in leadership for the LETR Committee, and Susan Stegeman along with officers of our department approached and asked if I would fill that role. That request was humbling, since I wasn’t sure I qualified for that important position. Besides, others had served on the committee far longer than I. But, I consented and was privileged to serve as the chairman of the LETR Committee during the years 1997 – 2003. I would have loved to continue in that role beyond that year, but it was time for me to retire from the police department. And with retirement I was made to surrender my uniforms, too. An old geezer not in uniform isn’t very impressive when awarding athletes the medals they have earned. 

Bev encouraged my continued involvement in Special Olympics and it was only 30 days after my retirement that I received a telephone call at home. Would I accept a nomination to serve on the SOMO Board of Directors? I did, but now after nearly eight years of Board involvement, and due to term limits, it is now nearing time for me to step aside from that role. 

Does one think I would now abandon Special Olympics? No way. I truly believe God has additional plans for others and me in our family. Our sons and daughter and their spouses have volunteered in various capacities through the years to support Special Olympics, most notably by going Over the Edge and plunging into frigid lake waters, but also attending Trivia Nights, buying T-Shirts, chances for the car raffles, and making other financial commitments. 

But a deeper involvement for us occurred in November 2008. Our son Matt, who is the St. Louis Metro Area Director for SOMO, and his wife Tracy welcomed their first child, Anderson. He affectionately is known as Andy, and was born with Down syndrome. 

So, as we prepare for the SOMO flight to end, we can only envision what the future holds, and surely it will be a safe landing. 

That’s because we all look at Andy as he progresses, smiles continually, and wows everyone … family, friends, day care counselors, and even strangers he encounters with that affectionate smile … and we dream about what his future holds. In near term, he’ll qualify to be a participant in the Young Athlete Program, and thereafter as he matures, we suspect he will become a premiere athlete and, later, one day step up to a microphone to offer his comments as a Global Messenger. 

So, we’ve landed and as we approach the tarmac, suffice it to say all the Lauers are now on board and qualify as members of the Special Olympics family!