The success of a program or organization can be defined in a multitude of ways.
For the Laberer family of Union, you don’t have to look any further than their daughter, Michelle, to see that Special Olympics Missouri has been a huge success for them.
“The thing that has meant to most to me is watching her at the dances and things. … In school they don’t get to do those things; she didn’t go to school dances or compete in school sports and with SOMO she does,” said her mother, Barbara.
“She has more independence and a sense of pride about everything she has accomplished through SOMO.”
Spreading her wings
Michelle Laberer competes in flag football, aquatics, bowling, basketball and track and field.
Michelle started participating in SOMO events at the age of 7, but it wasn’t until a few years later that her parents started taking her to events outside of the St. Louis Metro Area.
“That’s really the first opportunity she had to kind of break away from us,” Barbara said. “I’m a really overprotective mom … but we would let her stay with the coaches. It really did give her a little bit more freedom.”
In the beginning Michelle was timid at events and around others, but after some time, she really blossomed.
“I think SOMO has really made a huge difference in her life,” Barbara said. “There are people she sees at every state event and they talk and hang out. It’s just really cool. It’s exciting.”
Making that money
Michelle graduated from Union High School in 2007 and now, at the age of 25, works at Sheltered Workshop in Washington, Mo., a not-for-profit that provides employment opportunities for people with physical, mental and developmental disabilities.
For the past eight years, Michelle has worked on various tasks under her supervisor Betty Obermire who said Michelle has come a long way since the first day she walked through the door.
“As the years go by, you see that she got a little more outgoing,” Obermire said. “They do start to socialize a little more and she’s doing excellent.”
She said Michelle is always on time and takes her work very seriously like any other regular job.
“She’s very dependable. Some workers like to roam, but she stays on task,” Obermire said. “She’s a real asset for us.”
For the Laberer family, SOMO is more than just a few sporting events every year.
Just like SOMO offers sports during every month, Michelle takes full advantage of all of those opportunities, participating in swimming, bowling, basketball, track and field and flag football.
Michelle appeared with St. Louis Rams player Robert Quinn on a billboard for SOMO this fall.
Barbara said her oldest daughter, Rachel, has been volunteering for SOMO for many years.
“She has been a Unified Partner with Michelle in bowling … she does the Polar Plunge and more,” Barbara said.
While she does not necessarily have a favorite part about SOMO, Michelle said her favorite sport is bowling because, “I get a lot of medals.”
With her mom’s guidance as a coach, Michelle has racked up the awards over the years, totaling more than 100 medals.
“Like I said before, it just gives her more independence and something to brag about. She has this sense of pride now,” Barbara said. “When she gets a medal, she has to wear it for a week and show everybody at work.”
A happy ending
In what may be the best ending to any story ever, Barbara said through SOMO Michelle has made many friends, but one boy in Moberly stands out from the rest.
“Eight years ago she met a boy at a state bowling tournament and they are still dating,” she said. “We try to meet up once a month.
“They’re talking about even getting married, which may just be a possibility. We’ve thought about adding on an apartment to our house because neither of them can really live on their own.
“That’s just been a huge life-altering thing that came from SOMO. It’s just been really cool.”
Barbara said her favorite part of being a mother of a SOMO athlete and a coach is just seeing the athletes succeed.
“You see someone get a strike, turn around, scream and throw their hands in the air … that’s awesome.
“They get to be themselves.”