The Area 22 Special Olympic Games takes place on Friday, April 20, at the Ryder Center and will host athletes with special needs from Saginaw and Shiawassee counties.
“Our hope is that we can provide a competitive experience for our athletes in track, field and swimming,” said Carol Van Arsdale, the Area 22 liaison and primary event coordinator. “In the process, (the athletes) are able to be part of a social activity with a one-on-one volunteer for the day and enjoy one another’s company.”
The event is organized by the Area 22 Special Olympics with help from the RSO group Cardinals for Special Olympics. An Area 22 committee is responsible for designating roles for the event such as a food coordinator, publicity coordinator and volunteer coordinator.
Cardinals for Special Olympics is responsible for recruiting volunteers for the event and also some fundraising. This year, the RSO raised $4,000 in order to host the games.
“All of the stress from planning will be worth it on April 20 when we see their reaction,” said Madison Kowaleski, the president of Cardinals for Special Olympics. “This event promotes a climate of inclusion, acceptance, respect and human dignity which we hope will carry out into society.”
To spread awareness, there are table sits, flyer postings and a news article on SVSU Engage. Between the RSO committee and the Area 22 coordinators, it takes approximately 30 people to plan the event.
A turnout of approximately 450 athletes and 1,200 people total with volunteers, teachers and parents included are expected at the games.
Many who attend the games say they are positively affected by the experience, especially the volunteers.
“The thing that I look forward to most of all is seeing the joy on the faces of our athletes and the pride in our parents who are there to watch their sons and daughters compete,” Van Arsdale said. “The experience the volunteers get in many cases is their first opportunity to work closely with someone with special needs, and it is an eye opening experience for most of them.”
The Special Olympics have been organized by Area 22 every year since 2008. This year, there will be a craft room, dancing, a sensory room and a motor room. The SVSU Student Occupational Therapy Association is responsible for constructing the sensory room and will be run by the program’s graduate students.
“It is our primary goal to meet the needs of the athletes; even if they need new activities, we will accommodate,” Kowaleski said. “They want and need support and encouragement, and the games is a feel-good event that does just that.”
Help is still needed for the event, and anyone that would like to volunteer can contact Erica Rudy from Cardinals for Special Olympics at firstname.lastname@example.org.