Friday was the day that all our #SOGenUin Global Youth Summit Leaders have been working towards. It was game time for our leaders to put everything on the line; the hours of project development and pitch practice finally was put into actions.

One of our judges, Soeren Palumbo is no stranger to the feeling that the Youth Leaders are experiencing. As a senior in High School, Soeren bravely gave a speech to his school about the “R” word that created a global movement. He shared with the leaders that “having a clarity of vision is incredibly important, and then from there [they must] develop it one step at a time.” He encouraged the leaders to “not be shy or weighed down by the process.” As well as  reinforced that  “to change the world you need to change yourself first.” With that advice in mind our leaders bravely waited one by one to face the judges, luckily each leader had the support of their mentor, The Project Future Dream Director team.

The pitches were full of emotional moments for our youth leaders. Josh Kaplan shared his project called G.O.A.Ls which stands for Giving Opportunities to All who Love Soccer. The program aims to  match up young athletes and partners for a unified soccer experience. Josh shared that he struggled to make friends growing up because of his horrible stutter. He explained that soccer “really taught me to be a leader even though I didn’t feel like I could be one. I feel like that is the epitome of the Special Olympics.” He realized that through his own journey he is more similar to those with intellectual disabilities.

Jeff Hynds and Connie Ma from the Norwich Free Academy did not leave a dry eye in the pitch room after their presentation. Jeff has been speaking about his journey for the past two years, but during their pitch he became overcome with emotion that started a waterfall effect in the entire room. Jeff explained that “unified has done a lot for him.” Connie and their teacher Elizabeth Beit were overcome thinking about Jeff’s growth. He started as a shy boy, but through the unified program he gained the confidence to become a leader.  Ms. Beit shared that “Unified Sports and Special Olympics has changed his life and Jeffrey wants to pay it forward so it will change other people’s lives too.” That truly is the spirit of the Special Olympics. We are all game changers and through the power of sports and unified program it impacts us all. These couple days have also changed Connie. She has learned “to put myself out there and network more.” Ms. Beits added that “Connie is very quiet at school and grades are very important to [her].” This experience seeing “meeting people and putting herself out there” has been wonderful to see this “new radical Connie.”

We spoke with the judges who watched Connie and Jeff’s pitch to find out about their reaction to this emotional experience. Soeren shared that “I think it was the authenticity of it touched people. When any of us interact with a true genuine authenticity and relating of experiences that are important and informative. It pulls an entire audience together.” Jeff’s presentation talked about feeling like an outcast in elementary school because of his disability, but that is an experience that everyone can relate to. The universal experience of feeling like an outcast no matter who you are impacts all of us.

At the end of the day, the judges had the difficult job to select the top ten passion projects. Congratulations to

Adbulla Almedfa and Faisal Ali Hameed, Bahrain

Sashi Montana and Brina Maxino, Philippines

Samantha McLeod, USA

Jenish & Kanchan Amatya, Nepal

D’Franz Smart, USA

Tanzila Khan, Pakistan

Ryland Towne and Andrew Lin, USA

Danielle Liebl, USA

Kemal Avicenna and Farhan Arandra, Indonesia

Jeffrey Hynds and Connie Ma, USA

These leaders will have to opportunity to present again to the entire Summit! Each leader at the Summit will be able to cast a vote to help select the top five presentations which will be judged by a celebrity panel.

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