Massachusetts students named US Youth Ambassadors

Two Massachusetts students have been selected as part of the 2019 Class of Unified Champion Schools US Youth Ambassadors. Sydney Meininger and Elyse Whittemore were selected to be a part of the Youth Ambassador Initiative along with 10 other young adults with and without intellectual disabilities from across the country. These passionate leaders will receive training, speak at events and conferences, as well as explore topics that will inspire new ideas to promote inclusion.

Both Sydney and Elyse, along with Mentor Ali Deluca of Auburn High School, will be traveling to San Diego in February for leadership training with other Youth Ambassadors.

Elyse Whittemore has been involved in the Special Olympics movement for five years, and has been working with individuals with various disabilities since elementary school. As a student at Auburn High School, Elyse is a Unified partner on the school’s Unified Track & Field team, and president of the student council.

When Auburn High School was honored as a National Banner School and as part of the ESPN Honor Roll, Elyse spoke at the pep rally about the importance of Unified sports.

“It was great to see Unified sports honored while the entire student body cheered for them,” she said. “It was amazing to be a part of this assembly and help plan the recognition of all our Unified Athletes hard work. The support the entire school gave was truly heartwarming to see.”

Elyse credits her passion for inclusion to the great example her parents set.

“Inclusion is important to me because people of ANY type of ability should feel welcomed in their
school and community. I was exposed to people of all different abilities at very young age. Being able to
watch the way my parents interacted with their students inspired me to want to work with all students,
especially those with different abilities,” she said.

She is not exactly sure what her major will be in college, but plans to one day earn a Master’s degree, join the Peace Corps, and go into a profession that works with children and adults with disabilities.

Sydney Meininger has been involved with the Special Olympics movement for eight years as an athlete, volunteer and Youth Activation Committee member. She graduated from Nashoba Regional High School in 2018 and is currently in the school’s transition program. Sydney plays soccer, basketball and Unified track & field. Sydney enjoys sharing her Special Olympics story and looks forward to more opportunities to speak publicly.

Sydney and Elyse

Sydney and Elyse having fun at a Massachusetts Youth Activation Council meeting

Sydney is passionate about Unified sports because it has made it possible for her to feel included at her school and in her community, regardless of her disability.

“Inclusion is important to me because I have a disability and can still be able to play sports through Special Olympics and Unified Champion Schools. I get to do it with a lot of my friends. It makes me feel very included to be a part of a school sports team,” she said.  “I have been involved in my high school unified track team since I was a freshman and I love it because I get to be involved in a school sport even though I have a disability, but it makes me feel like I am involved like any other athlete on a team. Even though I may not be good at everything, I am still thankful to be an athlete on the team. We are all very supportive of each other, we may not win every meet but we put in our best effort every day a practice.”

Sydney hopes that being a US Youth Ambassador will give her the opportunity to bring Unified sports programming to even more students and schools.

“Inclusion is important to me to promote in my community because there are kids that want to play a team sport in the community, but it is hard because of their disability. They can play on a unified sports team which makes them feel involved and included,” she said.

There are currently over 150 schools in Massachusetts that participate Unified Champion School programming. This includes elementary, middle and high schools as well as colleges and universities. These are schools that offer Unified sports programs to students of all abilities, provide inclusive youth leadership opportunities and whole school engagement activities around inclusion and acceptance.

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