Sunday, March 31, 2019

My Thoughts on Special Olympics and Funding

Its no secret that Betsy DeVos announced the cut of funding for Special Olympics in a budget proposal this year. Its also no secret that Representative Pocan kicked some right wing butt in his rebuttal as to why Special Olympics is key. Shortly after the announcement and press releases the pages of many disabilities exploded with a number of comments and I weighed in myself on my own personal Facebook page.

Education is more than books. It’s life, learning to be kind, understanding differences. Kids with special needs are a minority. They don’t get the same experience with sports no matter how kind a school is or the opposing team. One thing Betsy didn’t plan on is having Special Needs parents choose to say enough is enough. Throwing out bullshit like IDEA she thinks she has half a clue. Betsy if you think we will just sit back, you picked the wrong type of momma. 


While my personal feelings were both supported and disagreed with, it was apparent that many people, including those without family members with disabilities were feeling something about this proposal. Thanks to my friend she used Charity Navigator to find out that although this organization pays their executives and does so generously, it is not paying out nearly at what other organizations in similar situations do. In fact, as I read the information myself, it seemed that pay may actually not be as high as it should be for the impact the organization has on both children and adults throughout the world.


That being said, I want to share my personal reasons for why I believe that we should have Special Olympics and why there should be supportive funding for children who do have disabilities and opportunities for them to participate, so today, I give you my own little letter to Mrs. DeVos.


Dear Mrs. DeVos,


As a mother to 5 children, I have the blessing to watch a number of children, including my own grow through athletics. I remember the first time I coached, I was young, perhaps 14 and working at a summer camp. I watched as children learned and grew through their time together and through instruction. That impacted me. I knew that somehow, someway I wanted to be involved in helping shape children and for me, as a mom, I am finding sports and coaching to be the best way.


Just yesterday, I coached two lacrosse teams. One, a group of children, my own daughter's age and although I wished she was there, she was not. These children, ages 5-7  began to use sticks to begin the process of understanding the challenging game of lacrosse. As they practiced the basic fundamental skills. I stood in the warmth of the sun and I smiled when they mastered a new skill and I felt grateful I could be the one to grasp the hand of the child coming in last, urging her to complete her running as I knew she could. I did so with joy in my heart because I am able to watch these children grow emotionally, physically and socially through their practices and games.


I also coached the older girls, with more experience. Some I have coached at other sports. Field Hockey. Basketball. Soccer. Others are new to me. I am learning them. Their strengths, their weaknesses and their individual personalities that makes our team whole. I watch in awe as I not only have the blessing to teach them but also to learn from them. Patience. Understanding. Compassion. The opportunity to challenge a child to push them to dream of what they could be in the future returning to the turf they practiced on as a tot one day as a teen passing and playing in a High School Game.





I even had the blessing of watching my middle two-the "not twins" as they played on a 5ht/6th team together, against a 7th/8th team. It was beautiful. The joy I had watching them was something that a parent feels when they believe that their children are growing into the people they are capable of becoming. You know that moment, when you realize your parenting dreams are fulfilled. I think as parents we witness this each day in the small gifts that our children present to us but now, having a child with disabilities, I acknowledge it even more and cherish those moments as precious time because they are moments I may not get with my youngest daughter.

You see, Mrs. DeVos, my youngest daughter can't participate. She tries but as a mom of a child with disabilities, there are a few things I consider. First, her well being. Is the sport one she can acclimate to with enough understanding that she will enjoy herself and grow. Second, will she impact the other children in a way that is positive. Will her engagement in the sport be one that allows other children to become more understanding, more compassionate and more aware. Third, will her impact take away from their own growth and yes, even winning because we all know the "rec" sports of today are not the rec sports of my day and I am not sure that they even had rec sports in your day. This year alone, I signed my daughter up for soccer and then chose not to follow through. I didn't think my child could play the game without negatively impacting her teammates and she had children of teachers, counselors and psychologists playing on that same team, willing to stand by and support her but I couldn't do it. She tried gymnastics and when I told the gym that she couldn't cope in a typical class they let her try anyway. They had to ask her to leave. Instead of telling her to never come back, they created a class for kids like her, but still its wasn't the same. Now I take her to dance every week with typical children. They are beautiful. Their parents are amazing but as her dance teacher says "its so hard to get her out of her own little world".

Athletics are important for more than just physical growth. They boost self esteem, allow development of social and emotional relationships and allow us to understand and cultivate leadership skills along with sills as a team player that make us more effective adults. Sure, we have all seen those "feel good" stories where the team arranges for the child with special needs to play a few minutes in a game their senior year and that is amazing but those children, are one in a million.


Special Olympics isn't something that my daughter has yet to be involved in. Our area has minimal access and opportunities but I continually look. Special Olympics was something others I knew had experienced and I beamed as children with extra needs told me about winning a medal and feeling good.I had hope that one day my child could cheer or swim or maybe even find an opportunity to ride horses as I did as a child. Special Olympics not only allows children with disabilities to have an athletic outlet, it allows them to have a team, their own team. It allows them to play, at their own level and for the parents not to worry that their child is not enough. In Special Olympics, they are all enough.


Many of my friends, even with children limited by their own disabilities don't agree with federal funding for the program but I ask, why then do we fund high school and middle school sports. Is it not the same idea? Is it not a place to grow the future, to give them a physical outlet that helps to foster emotional and social growth? To me, it is and if we are all to be treated equal, free of limitation by race, social status and other differences, I would expect that a disability wouldn't limit your opportunity to thrive.


Mrs. DeVos, I don't know you or your personal life and I do know that budgets suck and most of us all wish money fell from the sky and there were no limits on spending for education and positive programs. Reality is, that isn't the case. What I will say is before I walked this path, holding the hand of my own daughter with autism, a cut like this may not have meant as much, but as I walked off that field yesterday, I wished more than anything I could coach, not just my children who are typical but my daughter with special needs too. While I know she may never play on that same turf I hope for my little athletes to play on, I hope that there is some place where she can play, grow and learn and be cherished for the abilities she does have.










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