2009 Aug 16

written by Sherri Joubert

Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt–Ancient Roman Gladiators’ motto adopted by Modern Special Olympians

Eunice Kenney Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics and prime mover of civil rights, education and health legislation for the mentally disabled, died on August 11, 2009. She spent 48 years of her life working tirelessly in making the world a far better place for her special friends. She was 88. She started it all with her sister, Rosemary, and in 1963 in her own back yard with the first camp she held for mentally disabled children and young adults. Her work led to civil rights legislation, including the ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – for all disabled persons.

Watch this 10 minute tribute video of her life and contributions to the world:

The Special Olympics is very dear to me. I volunteered at the July 1983 Sixth International Special Olympics Summer Games held at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where I was a college student. A crowd of more than 60,000 attended the Opening Ceremonies and approximately 4,000 athletes participated.

Mrs. Shriver had all of us shouting for joy and crying tears of joy at the opening and closing ceremonies. It was a true honor to see and hear her speak in person, and to see the passion she had for her athletes. She made an effort to meet as many athletes personally as she could, and I’m sure there were few at that time who had not met her. Everyone on the team I worked with had met Mrs. Shriver. They were from Baltimore, MD. I still have the Orioles baseball cap they gave each of us.

That is a week I will never forget. That week transformed me from a fence-sitter to an aspiring advocate, and it taught me that giving your time and energy are more important than just giving money. Anyone can write a check, and we are grateful to all those who do. But it takes commitment and effort to get out there and do the hard things that need to be done to effect real change.

I didn’t continue with Special Olympics after college. I started volunteering in my community with Mid City Fix-up, an organization supported by my past employer. Local corporations provide the money, supplies and labor needed to repair and maintain houses downtown that our local elderly own and can no longer maintain without help. We were given time off our jobs to work within our community. I also volunteered with the local United Way and I gave the super-share amount out of my paycheck each pay period. I also volunteered each time a “Day of Caring” was available.

After being laid off from the chemical industry, I’ve volunteered at the food bank, during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita doing whatever was needed of me (mostly by the Red Cross), and then began volunteering in the public schools my son attended. When I began homeschooling my son, I started volunteering in local politics and was very active in the 2008 Presidential Campaign. Now I volunteer with Organize for America, a Democratic grass roots organization to work on the community level to effect national change. It’s flexible so I can fit it into my hectic work schedule with two businesses.

Mrs. Shriver’s legacy has changed the world for the better, made huge differences in millions of lives worldwide, and will continue to do so. Last week on NPR’s All Things Considered, there was a story about the partnering of Special Olympians with regular Olympians and a tribute to Eunice Kennedy Shriver. You can listen to the 3 minute broadcast at that link.

If you are looking for an opportunity to get involved in your community, there is probably a Special Olympics organization close by. I hope you will give generously and more importantly, volunteer, with them. If you already have a cause you support, I hope Mrs. Shriver’s example will encourage you to go the extra mile and make a bigger difference in your cause. For anyone who hasn’t volunteered before, I strongly encourage you to find a place in your community to volunteer and make where you live a better place. The time you spend will be worth more than you can ever imagine.

Do you have a story about your experience with Special Olympics or a mentally disabled family member or friend? Do you have a story about another cause? Please tell us about it in the comments.

Mrs. Shriver, thank you for everything you’ve done for so many throughout the world, and Godspeed. You will be greatly missed, but those you organized and trained to carry on your legacy are well prepared to step up and continue your work.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

\\ tags: , , ,