Spread the Word to End the Word on March 28

Jared portrait

Jared Niemeyer is a SOMO athlete from Kirksville

March is Spread the word to End the R-word campaign month. Our youth are leading the R-word movement to address this issue of social injustice.  They are standing strong and informing others of the significance in not using the R-word.  This movement is encouraging people to make a decision to use respectful language and make a pledge to not use the R-word.  Their goal is to generate respect for all individuals; promoting inclusive communities, inclusive employment and a more inclusive world.  Shouldn’t every encounter be addressed?

We may not find it necessary to take the stand that John Franklin Stephens, Special Olympics athlete and Global Messenger, took in writing an open letter to Ann Coulter due to her use of the word retard following the Presidential debates in November 2012.  However, we are very grateful for John’s courage and his thought-provoking letter.  John’s letter included this comment, “Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor. No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.”

John has said in the past that hearing the word retard “makes him, and others like him, feel wholly excluded.  I want you to know that it hurts to be left out here, alone.  Nothing scares me as much as feeling all alone in a world that moves so much faster than I do.”

With 385,153 pledges to date, our message is growing strong and our voice steady.  Join us by visiting www.r-word.org to make this pledge:

I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.

If you’ve made the pledge, step up to the challenge and resolve to add your voice to this movement in order to make a difference!

It only takes one person!  Eunice Kennedy Shriver not only accomplished her dream of promoting dignity through athletic opportunities, but has spread her dream across our world.  You can do the same thing in your family, school, clubs, organizations and community.  You can make all the difference with the people around you.  You can make change but you can also BE the change!

Students in Kirksville pledge to end the use of the r-word

Students in Kirksville pledge to end the use of the r-word

You can do so many things to promote change by being motivated, enthusiastic, encouraging, and energetic.  Be the change in ending the R-word means you explain to others how hurtful the derogatory use of the word retard is to those with intellectual disabilities.  It makes those of us who have an intellectual disability feel inferior, less important, able to do or accomplish less or even unlovable.  It’s important to stop putting others down by saying “retard” or “retarded” as if it’s disgusting or the worst thing possible.  Take a stand – share with your family, friends or others who use those words that it hurts us.  Take a stand to be the change for positive attitudes and changed hearts in your community.  Take a stand to be a strong, positive voice!

Most people don’t seem to understand how saying words can be so hurtful.  When you explain to one person, a friend, a group of people, a club, a class, a school – it spreads!!  Just informing others causes a ripple effect.  You can share with your friends and they can help promote change with you!  If you start a campaign in your school you just have to have a plan that your group of friends and an interested adult can share with your principal or superintendent.  If they are concerned you have to listen to what their concerns may be and adjust your plans if possible to make it doable in your school!  Listen to them and they’ll listen to you.

Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver, Jared and Brenda Niemeyer and Senator Roy Blunt

Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver, Jared and Brenda Niemeyer and Senator Roy Blunt

Use ideas on the R-word website or in the Project UNIFY manual to make sure your campaign has everything it needs to be the best!  These ideas can help you come up with plans for your group to propose and accomplish.  Stopping the R-word is about respect, dignity, unity, fairness, understanding, inclusion, truth, honor and acceptance.  We can all live together by working together; but we have to be a positive person in our community.  Everybody deserves to be treated with respect.  You might not always understand me or know what I’m talking about, but what I have to share is important.  I want to help make good things happen for the people around me.  I want to help others get through school, get along with others, get a meaningful job, live as independently as they can and give to their community!  One can make HUGE changes for many others.  Be the one working for positive change.  BE THE CHANGE in your community!

Jared Niemeyer is a SOMO athlete who lives in Kirksville. He serves on the national Youth Activation Committee, a group of young people from across the country who work together to promote school communities where all young people are agents of change.

SO Get Into It: Teaching Inclusion to Middle Schoolers

Linda Wiederholt, left, with two of her daughters and her brother, Dan

Linda Wiederholt, left, with her brother, Dan Schieber

I grew up in a loving family with a Special Olympics athlete. My brother, a National Games gold medalist, has taught me many valuable life lessons even though he is 12 years younger than me. As we grew up, he could make me laugh when I was down, smile when I really wanted to throw objects in anger, and to love everyone without a thought with how they may look, act or behave. I wish I could make friends as easily as he could, but he did teach me a few tricks. I have tried to teach my students the same lessons that he taught me.

The majority of the teachers and students that I work with unfortunately have not experienced life as I have growing up with my brother. I have seen teachers fight inclusion of special education students stating that it makes too much work. I have observed students make fun of others, and many times it is the students who are not as talented or “different” than others. I do not stand by and watch, but provide learning moments. A teacher can’t be everywhere at once, so many of these learning moments are missed and students are hurt. I attempt to teach my sixth grade students acceptance weekly through class meeting utilizing the Special Olympics “Get Into It” curriculum. These activities are to educate, motivate, and activate students to make a difference in their classroom, school, and community.

PH South ClinicThese character education activities stress lessons against bullying, acceptance of all, inclusion, and changing the culture of schools. To give you an idea on how I try to make a difference, I want to share one of my favorite activities. I group my students in the room with a majority of one group being the lower leveled students. The groups are given a piece of paper in which they are to answer the question. It is a phrase in Latin so no one has a clue except the one group that secretly has the answer on the paper. They have been prepped so they start talking about how easy it is to solve the problem and make fun of the other groups. After several minutes, discussion begins on how everyone feels. The “smart” students finally get a taste of how they often make the students with learning disabilities feel. My students walk out of the room feeling different and do think before they make fun of students who struggle in the class. I facilitate, but through activities students learn valuable lessons. All the teachers in my building can pull up the activities on our building blackboard so it does not stop with my room. Not only do I work with the students in my home base, but I facilitate teachers doing the same activities during our district’s professional development days. As a parent, you can suggest the following site to the teachers of your child: http://www.specialolympics.org/getintoit

PH South friendsProject UNIFY also sponsors Spread the Word to End the Word. My building spends one week during the year emphasizing the use of positive words instead of the hurtful r-word. Each of the eight teams is responsible for a school-wide presentation during morning broadcasts. Each individual is given an opportunity to sign the banner pledging not to use the r-word. Once the week is complete, I then refer back to it quite often. You can make the pledge yourself and find out more information at http://www.r-word.org . Once again, it is activities, not lectures, that make the students think of others in a more positive manner.

Technology has been a tool in which to get other teachers and students involved in the district. An email to Student Council advisors and A+ coordinators brings volunteers to my practices. Some of these volunteers become Unified Partners with the two high school Unified basketball teams. Many still want to volunteer even after they have completed their community service hours and as they say they are hooked for life. I have had students walk by our practice, ask what is going on, and then ask if they could help. They are still helping six years later. An email to the basketball coaches and we have a clinic set up for the athletes. Students spread the word to help keep our program moving in the right direction.

01-21-12 113The life lessons that my brother taught me many years ago are hopefully being transferred to the many students that I touch today.

Linda Wiederholt is a teacher at Plaza 6th Grade Center in the Park Hill School District. She is also a coach and volunteer for SOMO’s KC Metro Area.  

Special Athletes, Special Associates

Paul Meyer and his brother Ken enjoyed weight lifting together.  When Ken moved away to college, Paul continued his lifting routine on his own.  In 2009, Paul’s dad discovered that Special Olympics had a weight lifting program, and Paul began working with a Special Olympics coach at the YMCA in Festus two to three days a week.  His favorite event is the bench press, where Paul can press an impressive 300 pounds. 

Terri Dallas, Leisure Services Coordinator for Next Step for Life, encouraged Paul to apply for a job at Shop ’n Save, and in August of 2011, Paul began working at the South County store.  He enjoys working outdoors, especially when the weather turns cool.  Paul also has an interest in bocce ball and is considering learning the sport.

Steve Holley has participated in Special Olympics for more than 30 years.  He plays softball in the summer, but his true passion is bowling – and he has the trophies and medals to show for it!  On Saturday mornings, you can find Steve at Crest Bowl, where he maintains his 212 average.  The youngest sibling of three sisters, Steve lives independently at Kensington Square Apartments in Florissant and takes a bus to work at the Flower Valley Shop ’n Save.  In fact, Steve recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as an associate there.  Prior to working at Shop ’n Save, Steve had worked at a local hotel, but he prefers the interaction with customers and fellow associates that he enjoys at Shop ’n Save.  “I like the other workers and my bosses,” he says.  “I keep the carts caught up during the day and help anybody that needs my help with their groceries or their cart.”  Now the senior courtesy clerk, Steve helps new associates learn their job duties.  “I show them the right way to bring in carts and make sure they wear their safety vest.”

Shop ’n Save is proud to include special athletes as part of our team.  Their contribution is a valued element of our focus to deliver outstanding service to our customers.  Under the leadership of President Marlene Gebhard, Shop ’n Save developed a corporate partnership with Special Olympics Missouri, and today we are one of SOMO’s primary sponsors.  Working with local organizations like SOMO allows us to see how our donations are being put to work and allows us to be personally involved.  Many of our managers and associates volunteer their time in fundraising efforts and as buddies and helpers at the Area Spring Games.  Supporting local charities is important to us as a corporate citizen, and our partnership with Special Olympics is part of our commitment to the communities that we serve.

– Paul Warden, Operations Communication Manager, Shop ’n Save

Being a Special Olympics Coach

Kathy Lowry is a Special Olympics coach in the Kansas City Metro Area.

King and Queen at William Chrisman’s Special Olympics Prom

I have been a Special Olympics coach for 18 years, and the past five years have been at William Chrisman High School.  This has been sort of a challenge because, even though I am a Special Education teacher, I do not teach my athletes.  I actually co-teach Algebra 1 and Intermediate Algebra, where I work with the Learning Disabled students. 

I have been very blessed to have parents who are very willing to be involved.  Before I came to Chrisman, their program was primarily whatever they could fit in during school hours.  The belief was that parents would not be very accepting of conducting practices outside of school hours, particularly on the weekends.  That has not been the case.  Because we have been able to expand our program to having practices outside of school hours, our program has doubled over the past five years.  Our athletes participate in bocce, golf, bowling, basketball and athletics, and we plan on adding tennis next year.  We also have athletes who participate with the Jackson County Parks & Rec team in softball and floor hockey.  

William Chrisman High School’s Homecoming Parade

We don’t just play sports either – we have parties and picnics, too.  For the second year in a row, we will have a float in the Homecoming Parade.  We go to sports clinics and attend MU games.  I have even had to pay up on promising a Chinese lunch to an athlete who performed over and beyond at a competition, two times!

Part of the growth we have experienced has been due to the Special Olympics Fan Club.  This club consists mainly of general education students with a few higher functioning athletes.  They plan and conduct fundraisers, participate in the Polar Plunge, have seasonal parties for the athletes, plan and promote activities for the R-Word day, and organize a very elaborate dance (Prom) for the end of the year.  The climate at Chrisman has always been very accepting of the cognitively impaired students, but that acceptance and inclusion has grown over the past few years, in part due to the Fan Club and their activities.  Currently, we are promoting that the athletes at Chrisman are not just Special Olympics athletes, but they are Chrisman athletes who participate in Special Olympics.  It is all a part of being accepted and included in our high school setting.  

Receiving William Chrisman letters for participation in Special Olympics

One thing that shows the inclusion is that athletes who participate in Special Olympics can earn school letters, like any other extracurricular activity offered.  Chrisman High School is rivals with Truman High School, and they are both Independence high schools.  Whenever we play Truman in any sport, it is a big deal.  That also includes the rival basketball game played by the Special Olympics basketball teams at each school.  Both schools can fill a gym with general education students, cheer leaders, and dance teams, who are all there to support their school team.  We have had a little bit of difficulty getting Chrisman’s StuCo involved with our athletes.  Currently, one of our athletes is taking the Leadership class and has become a part of Chrisman’s student council, which is one more step in the right direction.

Watching our athletes at the Summer Games this past year was truly inspiring.  We have a range of abilities from high functioning athletes, taking general education classes, to athletes in our severe and profound program.  They interact with each other, keeping each other entertained and making sure not to leave anyone out.  They cheer each other on during all of their events.  Both make sure that everyone is always together and watching out for each other.  They are truly a team on and off the court.

William Chrisman’s Fan Club logo

I thoroughly enjoy working with my athletes.  I look forward to my time with them.  They inspire me to have a positive outlook on life.  As they push themselves to learn and become better athletes, they push me, as well, to become not only a better coach, but a better person.  They can always put a smile on my face.  But, of course, Alec’s greeting of “Hello, Dahling!!” is enough to make anyone’s day.

Movie Review: Bully

I knew going into this movie that it would probably be tough to watch. I knew it would make me think of all the Special Olympics athletes we strive to make a better life for each day. I thought I knew, but I just couldn’t have known how deeply this movie would affect me. It is, by far, the most moving film I’ve ever watched. It sliced right to my core and left me wondering how we can ever tackle this problem.

Bully revolves around 5 kids and families of kids that are being or have been bullied. The two families that I say in the past tense, they’re past tense, because those two boys committed suicide. A 17-year old boy and an 11-year-old boy felt like they had so little to wake up to in the morning, so little hope and acceptance, that they would rather not be here. The film follows 3 others whose stories could have turned out very similar. Pictured above is Alex, age 12, of Sioux City, Iowa, one of the kids who is followed throughout the documentary. *Photo is a screenshot from the film.

In Bully you see these five families, but what about the millions of other kids who are being bullied everyday? What about the kids who don’t have the words to stand up to those bullies, and what about the kids who don’t have the words to tell anyone who can do anything about it? Who will stand for them? Will you stand for them?

I’m not arrogant enough to say that I have the answers, but I have compiled a list of things we can do as parents, as advocates for kids (especially those with intellectual disabilities), and as community members.

Parents

  • We need to teach our children to value every person. Even when we don’t understand someone because they are different from us in some way, we should still be kind to them and seek out similarities that might result in friendship.
  • It’s also extremely important for us to foster a relationship with our kids that help them feel like they can talk to us about their life.
  • It is also important to develop a relationship with our child’s teachers, so that we open the door for them to share with us the things our kids might be facing at school but are too afraid to share with us.

Advocates

  • Instilling confidence in our friends with intellectual disabilities (ID), will help them have a voice that is heard. We need to give them the tools stand up for themselves.
  • People are often afraid of what they don’t understand. We need to educate others about intellectual disabilities and help people see past them to see the person.
  • Empower other kids to be advocates for kids with ID and give them the tools to stand up for their friends in a respectful and appropriate way. Project UNIFY strives to do this very thing. Read more about Project UNIFY and get involved by clicking here.

Community Members

  • It is not okay for us to stand idly by as our schools and our greater community is plagued with dangerous, violent, unacceptable behavior. We must stop bullying when we see it.
  •  We need to care about the state of our school system. We are responsible for who runs the school and the policies set forth. Help our schools adopt environments that allows students to feel safe in their school.

I feel very strongly that every school classroom in America could benefit from watching this film. I think you should watch it with your kids and prepare to have a lengthy discussion afterwards. One thing standing in the way of this video being shown in classrooms is that it has received an R-rating (unfairly, in my opinion). You can sign a petition to try to help give this movie the more appropriate PG-13 rating which would allow it into schools.

You can start paving the way to end bullying by participating in our campaign to End the R-word. Visit www.r-word.org and take the pledge to quit using the word “retard” or “retarded.”

This problem is not too big. This is not hopeless. The solution starts today, and it starts with you.

“I don’t believe in luck, but I do believe in hope.” -Alex, 12, Sioux City, Iowa

I watched Bully as a part of the True/False film festival in Columbia, Missouri. You can see Bully in select theatres starting March 30. Please see this film and share it with others.

Ashley Dawson is the Project UNIFY Assistant for SOMO. She has been on staff for four years. You can reach her at dawson@somo.org.

My Brother, Tanner

Katie Hrenchir is the Northwest Associate Area Director and proud sister of SOMO athlete Tanner. She can be reached at hrenchir@somo.org.

My special brother, Tanner, was born with Down syndrome 29 years ago. Back then, doctors did not know as much as they do now about Down syndrome. It was still a very foreign disability to most. When Tanner came into this world on March 4, 1982, my parents held their baby boy for the first time. Seeing him, they knew he was different, but they loved him all the same. They still had the same dreams for him and couldn’t wait to share this bundle of joy with their friends and family. That is when their dreams seemed unravel.

My parents have told me stories of what the doctors told them when Tanner was born. These stories hurt me to the core because of the negativity streaming from the doctors about my brother. As my parents were cradling Tanner, the doctors told them everything he would NOT be able to do in life. They told them he probably wouldn’t walk or talk. They told them “Don’t expect much out of him.” That line hurts the most. That line seems as if they were treating my older brother as a thing, not as a person. Then they stated that he would be better off in an institution. My wonderful parents, full of faith and expectations for Tanner, did not listen.

They were very scared, angry and sad at first. They had nowhere to turn. The doctors and hospital gave them no advice or any places to turn to for support. They knew they would have to do this on their own. They turned to family and friends, who immediately accepted Tanner (who in my opinion was one of the most adorable babies to grace this Earth). Tanner was such a loving, sweet and happy baby. He had everything to give and more.

When he was old enough, my parents found therapy and speech classes to enroll Tanner in. He started growing and succeeding! He was already surpassing all of the doctors’ expectations and hurtful words.

Then, at age 10, my parents enrolled Tanner into Special Olympics Missouri. Our lives have NEVER been the same. From Tanner’s first-ever bowling practice, to the 2010 National Games, to the present … the Hrenchir family will always call Special Olympics Missouri home.

Special Olympics Missouri has given my brother so much. This program has given him hope, happiness, joy, confidence, determination, and most importantly … acceptance. This program has shown Tanner that ANYTHING is possible. It has shown him that dreams really do come true. Through this program, Tanner has traveled, Tanner has competed, and Tanner has gained lifelong friends.

In school, it wasn’t always easy for Tanner or me growing up. Having a sibling with special needs can be very hard. It is something very hard to explain to others. When his peers would make fun of him, I always felt I needed to step in and stand up for him. Back then I didn’t always have the support I needed as his younger sister, and people with disabilities were still trying to be accepted in this society. I was always looking out for Tanner and felt as if I had to protect him all the time. There were some peers that were very fond of Tanner, but of course there will always be bullies in every school, and we had our fair share of those experiences.

The great thing about Special Olympics is that Tanner is always accepted by everyone. There is no bullying. When Tanner enters a gym for SOMO practice or a field for a SOMO flag football tournament he knows he is HOME. He knows everyone there is his friend, he knows they will all be on his side, he knows they will all include and accept him.

Unified Sports has also been great for Tanner. Being that his peers in school did not always accept him, having Unified Partners on the field with Tanner really makes a huge difference. Seeing that all youth are on his side now is incredible. It is a great feeling to know that Special Olympics Missouri is educating all youth that people with intellectual disabilities have the right to be accepted and included too. This is a program I would have loved to be involved with when we were younger. However, I am so happy it is in full swing now throughout the whole state of Missouri.

Special Olympics has not only helped Tanner, it has helped our whole family. Seeing Tanner in his daily struggles and witnessing people bully him was so hard to endure. Through Special Olympics, my family has found happiness and so much joy. We were given a program that Tanner could succeed in. We were given a program where we could watch Tanner grow and be happy. That is all we could ask for. Our family has met other families who have gone through the same struggles. It has been so nice to be able to network and communicate with other families who share our joy, pain, successes and struggles. Together, the families of Special Olympics Missouri have a bond that can’t be explained. We can relate to each other. We can see that this program has worked wonders in our loved ones’ lives and our lives as well.

I now work for Special Olympics Missouri. It is dream job that was meant for me. This job was just waiting for the right time to appear on my plate. I now get to plan and coordinate sporting events for my brother and the other 862 Special Olympics Missouri athletes in the northwest part of Missouri and couldn’t ask for a more satisfying job.

For anyone who donates their time and/or funds to our special program, please know that you are making a difference in so many lives. Not just the lives of our athletes, but their families and friends as well. Special Olympics has a snowball affect. If you help out once, you have touched many lives, which in turn touches more lives when you aren’t even looking. As a sibling of a Special Olympics Missouri athlete I can say that anyone who volunteers at our events and gives Tanner a high five or a “good job” touches my heart as well.

Special Olympics Missouri is a life-changing program, and the Hrenchir family is proof of that.