Making a Difference at Special Olympics

Every spring, volunteers from Chamblee Charter High School’s National Honor Society give up their time and energy to serve special needs student athletes at DeKalb County’s Track and Field Special Olympics. Volunteers receive six full service hours for the event, which is helpful for meeting NHS’ required 20 hours per semester. However, the service hours aren’t always volunteers’ main incentive. Instead, volunteers often find themselves serving at Special Olympics simply because they enjoy it.

“I love doing Special Olympics, it’s one of my favorite volunteering events,” said Chamblee junior Giselle Washington. “You get so much out of it and you feel like you’re really making people happy and helping the community.”

At the Special Olympics, a vast number of volunteers are assigned a wide variety of roles and responsibilities.

“This Special Olympics event that we recently went to involves a lot of track and field events,” said NHS President and Chamblee senior Sunrita Gupta. “We were volunteering at relays, softball throws, and javelin throws.”

While volunteers often choose to go to Special Olympics because they expect a fun experience, their service is essential for a successful day.

“The event is completely volunteer-run,” said Gupta. “Volunteers will guide people where they need to go, and they’ll time the runners, they’ll measure the distance that javelins or softballs have been thrown, and, in fact, they’ll even sell ice cream on the side.”

At the event, Washington was able to serve at the awards ceremony station where she was responsible with calling out athletes names and places and then handing out ribbons.

“It’s my favorite job role there because you get to see [the athletes] so happy when they win and you help them pin their awards on, which is also so much fun,” said Washington. “I served at the station last year, and since I enjoyed it so much I made a special effort to serve there again this year.”

One reason why many view Special Olympics as so special is the learning experience that participants gain from it.

“I feel like we don’t have many opportunities to work with special education students, so I think volunteering at Special Olympics is a great way to, one, realize how fortunate you are to be healthy and functional, and two, just learn to deal with different types of people and learn to be responsible for things you might not have needed to be responsible for before, and three, just learn to respect all differences,” said Gupta. “Because you deal with many people who are different than you, and by interacting with them in a safe setting you really learn to be respectful and mindful of different people.”

Unfortunately this year at Special Olympics there were far more volunteers than volunteer spots available. This meant that many Chamblee students sat on the bleachers the entire time rather than actually serve.

“I was a hugger for, like, 3 races, but that only lasted about 15 minutes,” said Chamblee junior Safiya Duncan. “For the rest of the time I just sat on the bleachers and ate.”

Although Duncan wasn’t especially upset about not having the opportunity to volunteer, she did wish that there was an appropriate amount of volunteers for the number of slots open.

“I wasn’t too upset about it, I had just expected to do more,” said Duncan. “I felt like we had way too many people. A lot of people couldn’t fit on the busses too. I think they should account for how many people they actually need and have a limit on who can sign up.”

Gupta offered a different idea for how to make use of the overflow numbers of volunteers.

“Of course we can’t force them to open up more volunteer slots, but I feel like if we have extra volunteers, the NHS volunteers could help to maybe put on side booths to encourage athletes who are waiting for their event to go around and have fun,” said Gupta. “That way we could involve more volunteers and more athletes at the same time.”

Despite the issue of many volunteers being unable to serve due to a lack of available positions, many volunteers still are able to look back on Special Olympics as a happy day.

“I love the overall feel of it,” said Washington. “Everyone’s so happy to help, and that’s one of the best feelings you can have, to be happy to help. I’ll definitely be doing it next year, it’s my favorite event.”

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