National Volunteer Week!
Celebrating How Special Olympics Volunteers Rose to the Occasion this Past Year
What do snowshoeing, Wiffle balls, and polar plunges have in common? They’re all ways that Special Olympics Massachusetts volunteers stepped up to plate this past year to keep athletes healthy, active, and most importantly, included! As we celebrate National Volunteer Week, we’re giving extra thanks to the incredible volunteers of Special Olympics Massachusetts.
Prior to March 2020, everything for Special Olympics was in person. In-person training, in-person competitions, in-person fundraising events. And the more people, the better! COVID-19 changed all of that instantly. There were challenges, obstacles, and lessons to be learned as we navigated the new world with COVID-19. And it was the volunteers who met those challenges head-on. Volunteers raised their hands to stay committed to inclusion and dedicated to providing sports and fitness opportunities for athletes across the state. In the last year:
- Over 4,450 people volunteered.
- Over 4,416 athletes were able to participate in Special Olympics MA in 2020, via in-person, at-home, and online events, thanks to our volunteers.
- We had a 15% increase in the number of athletes who participated in fitness training.
- Online and at-home opportunities have created even more accessibility and more inclusion for athletes to participate.
What is National Volunteer Week?
National Volunteer Week is an annual celebration to recognize volunteers who lend their time and talent to support causes they care about within their communities. The celebration takes place annually during the third week of April, with thousands of volunteer events and projects scheduled nationally throughout the week.
Special Olympics Massachusetts volunteer opportunities look different this time of year compared to before COVID-19 when we had hundreds of volunteers at spring season sports tournaments and school-wide unified game days. But although volunteering may look different, the volunteer impact is just as strong and just as important.
After a brand new Mass Fitness Challenge led by volunteers in 2020, one parent shared:
“Having a daughter who has been a Special Olympics athlete for ten plus years, I want to let you know how much your efforts are truly appreciated. Without people like you, we would not have the opportunities that are available today.
My daughter Lillian can truly train for and compete in an environment that makes it possible to not only dream of winning but actually winning sometimes. This program teaches the importance of her doing the best she can physically, mentally, and behaviorally by having a place in which athletes, coaches, and fans encourage each other and create an atmosphere that teaches the art of winning and losing gracefully.
My appreciation and thanks go out to you! Know what an enormous difference you make in my life and the lives of all participants along with their families and caregivers.”
How Special Olympics Massachusetts Volunteers Rose to the Occassion
One individual can make a huge impact.
Take Lee Lamkin, for example. As a longtime volunteer, she had traditionally been a leader at events where she coordinated transportation for athletes as well as teams, managed competitions and facilitated event logistics.
When the state approved small in-person gatherings last July, Lee raised her hand to volunteer in new and innovative ways, including coordinating weekly bike rides for athletes in her community.
The bike rides started with her and one athlete, Meghan Colby. Week after week, more athletes joined the bike rides. Then, more families, volunteers, and Special Olympics supporters joined. The bike rides weren’t just about burning calories, they were about bringing people of all abilities and backgrounds together, staying included and connected, and sharing in the joy of fitness and exercise.
When the weather turned cold and the rail trails were too icy for bike riding, Lee kept going. This time, it was with snowshoeing–a brand new activity for Special Olympics Massachusetts. Lee, athletes, families, and volunteers learned snowshoeing together.
And when there wasn’t snow on the ground? She did her research and learned that sand is a great alternative to snowshoeing and moved the group to the beach. Lee sent weekly emails to the group, scouted out the best locations, collected donated snowshoes, and followed all COVID-19 safety guidelines, including administering weekly temperature checks.
Then, to add to the snowshoeing fun, her group added snowshoe Wiffle ball to the week. One family who signed up to volunteer with Lee at the snowshoeing club shared:
“Lee is an amazing person. We are so fortunate to have met her!”
Lee’s making an impact not only in the lives of athletes but also in the lives of fellow volunteers as well.
Volunteer groups are making an impact, too.
National Charity League of Wellesley is a mother-daughter volunteer group who had traditionally volunteered at multiple tournaments and fundraising events. This past year, they brainstormed and adapted to support as many new volunteer programs as possible. They participated in Virtual Summer Games and the High Five campaign last spring, volunteered in-person at fall events and showed their support by joining the Polar Plunge and fundraising for the first time. They also spread the word to others they know to grow the Special Olympics community. They persevered to adapt and grow with Special Olympics Massachusetts and remained committed in their support of athletes.
These are just two examples of the incredible work volunteers have accomplished this past year. This week, we will celebrate them, and all of our volunteers, on our social media channels. Be sure to follow our accounts and celebrate our amazing volunteers this week!
Why Volunteering is More Important Than Ever in 2021
“Everybody has an open invitation. You don’t have to be an athlete. You don’t have to be a Special Olympian. Everyone is more than welcome to join our group. When people join our group and start developing friendships, they realize ‘Wow, that person’s not so different after all,’ or ‘They know how to snowshoe,’ or ‘Wow, they’re having a lot of fun out there!’ They realize that people with intellectual disabilities are no different than people without–and it opens up a lot of doors and opportunities for everyone involved,” Lee Lamkin, volunteer.
In addition to fostering a more inclusive community, there are many more benefits from volunteering:
- Empower others and learn new skills.
- Stay physically and mentally active, while reducing stress levels.
- Make meaningful connections.
- Support the amazing Massachusetts community.
Volunteering in 2021 is more important than ever. CEO and President Mary Beth McMahon shares:
“As we head forward coming out of this pandemic, and working toward getting back to better, we do so knowing a handful of things:
- We have the biggest, most passionate, and committed group of volunteer leadership any organization could ever ask for. And, every day we have more people putting their hands up to take on a leadership role.
- We have a group we serve, the current and future athletes of Special Olympics Massachusetts, who have demonstrated the desire to participate in a more substantial way.
- Most importantly, we have a mission that brings out the very best version in all of us. It gets inside of you. It becomes a part of who you are. It wants to burst out of you in the form of smiles, high fives, hugs, and pure joy while teaching and building inclusion along the way. This is your invitation to join us. Your invitation to come and experience inclusion.”
Volunteer with Special Olympics Massachusetts
Volunteers of Special Olympics Massachusetts are changing the way the world sees individuals with intellectual disabilities. There are a number of ways to get involved with our efforts–whether it’s becoming a coach, joining as a teammate, volunteering virtually, or raising your hand to take on a leadership role.
This past year was challenging, but volunteers and athletes persevered. By continuing to work together, we’ll build even more ways for athletes to be included in their communities through sports and fitness.