You may know that Lovin’ Scoopful Ice Cream created the Lovin’ Compassion Award to recognize young visionaries ages 8 to 17 from around the country who are involved in programs that foster respect & inclusion and have formed true personal connection with people with differences. They just chose this year’s winners so we wanted to share their inspirational stories. Check out more on the Lovin’ Compassion Award and visit Lovin’ Scoopful on their website to learn how they support Special Olympics!
Caitlynn Cantrell (McMinnville Oregon) age 14
Caitlynn was nominated by school and non-profit staff members based on work with Project UNIFY. After attending a Youth Rally, Caitlynn was so inspired that she went back to her middle school and immediately went to work arranging programs to benefit those with intellectual disabilities. We spoke to Caitlynn’s school Principal about the assembly proposed, planned, and arranged by Caitlyn. She coordinated adult and youth guest speakers with intellectual disabilities to share their stories to help educate her middle school peers. Students and teachers alike were inspired by her passion and dedication. Alix Wasteney of Special Olympics Oregon said she is a true leader and is dedicated to spreading (the) message to all of her peers, educators, and family. “She understands the importance of advocating against injustice, neglect, bullying, exclusion, and abuse. I know that this will not be a onetime thing for Cait, but yet a lifetime commitment to fighting for equality, inclusion, and unconditional acceptance for children, youth, and adults with and without intellectual disabilities.” Her mother adds, “Cait shines a very bright light on everyone she touches with her presence.” So many individuals nominated Caitlyn and had beautiful things to say about her. David Holmes, teacher, said “In a world of middle school students who struggle to see or reach beyond themselves, Caitlynn has found meaning in helping others. She has given up electives to reach out to Life-Skills students and make their experience in middles school more meaningful. She has found a way to be compassionate, caring, and confident at the same time. This is a rare quality in a person, much less a teenager.” Many others lifted Caitlynn up and refered to her as a wonderful young lady with a big heart who is changing the face of middle school. Caitlynn, we are humbled by the work you have accomplished at such a young age. Thank you for all that you’re doing and keep up the great work!
NEW ENGLAND WINNERS
Lara Hawley (Woodbury, CT) age 17
Lara was nominated by Lou Pear from Connecticut Unified Sports and by Chris Renstrom from Special Olympics Connecticut based on an essay she wrote on how being involved in Unified Sports impacted her. Here are some excerpts I took from her essay. “There are times in life when you lose faith in the world. You find yourself engulfed by darkness and unable to find the way out. Last year was that time for me. Ultimately my encounter with a small group of very remarkable people would become my lifeline in this darkness. I realized that for me (Unified Sports) symbolized the small points of light in the night sky that helped me see the world more clearly. The special kids on the team were some of the nicest people I had ever met. They greeted you with huge smiles on their faces and didn’t judge you, label you, or expect you to be anything more than who you were. It’s hard to find people to look beyond the preconceived judgments and expectations of society and just enjoy life. The partners in the Unified Sports Program were supposed to be role models for the students with disabilities. Their strength and their acceptance of overwhelming challenges gave me courage and I believe in the end they taught me more than I could ever teach them.” Lara is now educating others her age on the benefits of involvement in Unified Sports. She is also an advocate for equality and inclusion for those with intellectual differences.
Kaitlyn Guild (Berlin, CT) age 14
Kaitlyn was also nominated by Lou Pear from Connecticut Unified Sports and by Chris Renstrom from Special Olympics Connecticut based on an essay she wrote on how being involved in Unified Sports impacted her. Kaitlyn found special needs athletes to be accepting & determined and opened her eyes to more similarities than differences. She used vivid imagery in her essay to really build a connection with her readers & show how much her work with Unified Sports meant to her. Here are some excerpts from her essay. “As I step on the rubber I shake off the nerves that attempt to take over my body. Instead a chill of excitement rushes down my spine as the bright ball slips through my sweaty palm. The wind blows in my face as my hand releases the ball. When I pitch I feel excitement and pride! After participating in Unified Sports, I never would have thought that the same strong emotions could be present, but for a different reason; I was helping a special athlete accomplish her goal. In doing so, I learned a lot about people. I am in awe at how much more accepting of others the special athletes are than the majority of my peers. As a partner I have learned how to accept others. Instead of looking at differences my eyes opened to focus on the similarities.” If more adults found that same view and just opened their eyes to the similarities we would live in a much more peaceful world. Kaitlyn and others like her will bring about peace for future generations as she successfully spreads her message.
MID ATLANTIC WINNER
Peter Bowman (Syracuse, NY) age 11
Peter is actively involved in Special Olympics and has been for the past 4 years. He is an assistant coach to swimming and basketball. His brother, Andrew, has Down Syndrome. Peter takes an active personal role getting involved in all athletes, but in particular he has a gift in being able to calm down athletes that are having a melt-down moment. His calm gentle nature makes him a wonderful influence. Peter is very kind and treats all athletes with dignity and respect. Peter goes above and beyond by giving up his study hall time in middle school to go into the inclusion class. He helps in any way he can. Peter stands firm on his belief that if more people were involved with those that are differently able, possibly 10 years from now every person would be treated the same and there would be no more “us” and “them.” Peter also has a great sense of humor and is very committed to his work with Special Olympics.
Kyleigh Clark and Sara Olvera (Abilene, Texas) ages 14
Kyleaigh and Sara were nominated by Martha Dorow, Project Unify Staff Member in Austin. Both girls have participated (together) in Project UNIFY at their school and are on the state Youth Leadership Council. As members of the YLC, they helped develop the first PU Youth Leadership Summit in Texas, addressing issues of leadership, strategies for addressing the use of the R-word and similar language, and action plans for local continuation of programming. They are both advocates for inclusion and are both actively working to bring Project UNIFY into the high schools they will be attending together next year. Kyleigh and Sara have researched ways to support students with intellectual disabilities at their middle school. One plans to join ROTC and the other wishes to serve as a football team manager. They are now trying to figure out ways to approach staff in charge of those organizations about (inclusion of those with disabilities interested in participating?). The girls have shown strength of character, demonstrating initiative, honesty, and integrity. Their enthusiasm as a Project UNIFY and Youth Leadership Council participant is contagious. They are strong leaders now and have the potential to become even stronger leaders in the future. Both are also involved in the R-Word campaign at their school.
WEST COAST WINNER
Emma Rose Earl (Chester Montana) age 14
Emma was nominated by a friend/Special Olympics Athlete, Stacey Johnston. Thru intervention and education, Emma has been successful in getting most students of her K-12 school to stop using the R word. With footage from the 2009 World Winter Games in Boise she and 4 other girls created and presented a film they put together on the “R-word” and showed it to the community & peers. Emma has also participated in the Polar Plunge and a truck raffle. She has also volunteered to go to Greece to be part of the Youth Rally. Emma continues to envision new ways to become involved in projects that improve education and better the lives of those with intellectual challenges thru increased inclusion and respect. She is setting a wonderful example that we hope many others will follow.