Event Held as Part of 2014 USA Games
By Madison Cohoon and Tori Cobb
On Sunday, June 15, 2014 Tori Cobb, Brittany Abell, and me (Madison) started our journey at the 2014 USA National Summer Games Youth Summit in the state of New Jersey. We were very honored to be a part of this program and to represent our great state of Kentucky. We started Sunday off with a welcoming session, where we got a chance to meet everyone and engage in many fun activities involving Inclusive Youth Leadership. After our first session, we broke off into our discussion teams, which is a small group of youth and mentors that reflect together about what we had learned that day. We had the best discussions about ways to implement Project UNIFY effectively in schools all around our states. Once discussion team meeting was over, we broke off into large groups (A,B or C) to prepare for the school assemblies we would all be attending that week. Once everything was ready to go, we had lunch then loaded the buses for opening ceremonies. Opening ceremonies was SPECTACULAR. The feeling you get when watching these athletes, from all over the country walk in excited for competition is indescribable. We are so thankful to have seen all of the states introduced. Arriving back to the campus we were staying at was very exciting because a pizza party was planned for us. Our first day and night in New Jersey was definitely a success.
Monday, June 16, we got up and ate breakfast first. Second, we got into our large group. There, we learned about the Inclusive Youth Leadership Guidebook and Student-Led Unified Sports Guide. After that we had lunch. Then we got into discussion teams for a meeting. We had a break, then went to our first session. This session was about teamwork, which focused on identifying individual strengths and skill to take to the next level through Project UNIFY. After that, we had another break then went into a session about communication. At this session we learned to encourage and inspire others to join the movement. Next, we had another break before the Dinner Cruise around the New York Harbor. For me (Tori) that was the first time being on a boat. It was so much fun.
Tuesday, June 17, was our third day in New Jersey. It was the day that our large group (group C) would attend an assembly at Pond High School. This assembly was a way to show the positive impact that Project UNIFY has on people and schools. We were asked to intermix with the students in the auditorium so that everyone would feel included and also be exposed to the true meaning of Project UNIFY. The assembly went great. After we arrived back to campus and ate lunch, we all met in the meeting room where our sessions take place. We had an awesome surprise waiting for us, a presentation by Mike Smith. Mike Smith is the founder of the non-profit organization Skate For Change. His story was not only inspiring, but also unforgettable. He told his story about how he met his athlete and how he became his best friend. Later, Mike skated around his town giving socks, and food, and any other necessities to homeless people. This shows that one act of kindness can truly change the world, which is what Project UNIFY is all about. Following Mike Smith’s presentation, we attended a session about environment. In this session, we learned about the importance of creating a positive and respectful school climate. This allows everyone to feel comfortable and included. After the conclusion of this session, we moved into a session about co-leadership. In this session, we learned the difference between leadership and co-leadership. We got the chance to take a deeper look at the skills needed to obtain a goal, together. Next, we broke off into our discussion teams to reflect on what we learned in those two sessions. That night, we all got to attend Olympic Town. This is a mini carnival with games, rides, and food. It was a great way for all of us to have fun and make new friends from different states. What a great day number three we had in New Jersey.
On Wednesday, June 18, our large group (group C) got to go to Mercer County Park, where we got to watch softball, baseball, etc. Also, while we were there we got to play games. Next, after we got back, we had group reflections on team activities and leadership sessions. Next, we went to the Introduction to Special Olympics Global Youth Marking Campaign presentation. After that, we had Fans in the Stands cheering for the basketball competitions at Rider University. It was a lot of fun watching the basketball game.
Thursday, June 19, was a day of preparation. In the morning, Team Kentucky, along with the other state delegations, prepared for the Youth Expo. The Youth Expo was an activity we did to show off what our state has done with Project UNIFY so far. Each state made a poster to set up on Friday. Our poster contained pictures from various events throughout our first year of Project UNIFY. Once our posters were ready to go, we broke off into discussion teams to ask questions about the Youth Expo, what to expect, and how the whole event works. After our discussion team meeting, we broke off into “sport” groups to prepare for the Unified Sports Festival, also on Friday. Our sport was soccer and we were picked to referee. Tori and I have never refereed a soccer game before. We were clueless. Fortunately, our awesome mentor Brittany had played soccer in high school and said she knows what to do. People from the local community, as well as athletes from the Games, were able to attend and play UNIFIED. That night, unfortunately, it rained and we were unable to attend the 2014 USA Games Gold Medal Baseball Game. However, that didn’t bring us youth down. We ordered pizza and bought some ice cream and had a dance party that all youth and their athletes could attend. It was such a fun day and night.
Our experience in New Jersey was absolutely incredible. We are so extremely grateful to have been able to go on this trip and be a part of this movement. PLAY UNIFIED, LIVE UNIFIED. Friday, June 20, we had the Youth Expo, which is a science fair type experience where state delegations shared their plans to take Project UNIFY to the next level during the 2014-2015 school year. We enjoyed the Youth Expo because we learned a lot of new information from each state delegation. We learned what they are going to do in the next school year in their state and what they can do to activate more people to be a part of Project UNIFY. Next, we went to the Unified Sports Festival. We got a chance to volunteer as referees for a soccer game. It was a lot of fun to do that because we met a lot people from the local community, talked to them and shook their hand saying good job after the game was over. The soccer game inspired us so much because people were showing good sportsmanship to the other team and that is what Special Olympics is about. The very last thing we did was going to Closing Ceremonies. They had bands singing, inspirational speakers talking to us, and so much more. It was also very sad because the ending of the ceremony meant leaving all of our new friends for a while.