Support Special Olympics athletes in Ukraine

Dear Special Olympics Pennsylvania Family:

Everyone is well aware of the horrific situation unfolding in Ukraine. Pennsylvania has the 2nd largest Ukrainian American community in the United States. I’m sure many of you have wondered how, or even if, you can help. There is now a way you can support Special Olympics athletes in need!

I have been working with the Managing Director for Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia exploring ways we can assist. SOPA is going to form a partnership with the Krasnobrod Center in southern Poland that has been helping refugees with intellectual disabilities fleeing Ukraine. This center is just across the border from the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Before the pandemic and the war, SO Ukraine had 13,885 athletes. Special Olympics PA has committed to providing $13,885 ($1 for every athlete) to support SO Poland and this center. We are asking the entire SOPA family to join us in “matching” this support by donating whatever you can here: https://bit.ly/3uQc6QC

By working together, we hope to generate up to $27,770 – enough funding to support this center for the next year.

The SOPA family has always been generous and has always stepped up to help other SO Programs in need. You did it when a tornado hit Joplin, Missouri. You did it when an earthquake hit Haiti. And, you did it when Hurricane Sandy devastated SO New York. Now, I’m asking you to do it again to help meet the urgent, acute, and growing needs created by this refugee crisis.

In coming weeks, we will explore additional ways to engage and connect our SOPA athletes and volunteers with the athletes and families at the Krasnobrod Center. For now, financial assistance is the most meaningful way we can help.

Thank you for your generosity,

Matthew B. Aaron

President & CEO, Special Olympics Pennsylvania

SOPA finishes 2nd in NIRSA Unified Rocket League Tournament

Last week, SOPA Unified, an eSports team representing Special Olympics Pennsylvania competed in the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) Unified Rocket League Championship tournament! The team, consisting of four Special Olympics Pennsylvania athletes and one coach from the Greater Lehigh Valley Pocono Region, faced Utah Gamurs in the final and fell just short of winning the whole thing, claiming a silver medal in the 4-2 best-of-seven series loss.

Since October, 2021, SOPA Unified has played Rocket League — a video game that combines soccer and car racing — every Wednesday night. The team members, Dylan Smith, Brandon Batres, Richard Klingensmith and Juvantie Ortiz, as well as coach Cody Dalton, have different experience levels playing Rocket League, but focused on building team chemistry and encouraging one another all season en route to making the finals in their inaugural campaign.

Everyone on the team, aka The Demo Squad, loves eSports and the weekly competition and bonding sessions have brought everyone close together.

If you’d like to watch a replay of the finals against Special Olympics Utah, please click here.

Meet the Team
Dylan Smith (Team Berks): Has been playing Rocket League for less than a year, enjoys working out and making scarves.

Brandon Batres (Team Lehigh): Has been playing Rocket League for less than a year, enjoys traveling and playing soccer.

Richard Klingensmith (Team Lehigh): Has been playing Rocket league for three years, enjoys playing video games and sports.

Juvantie Ortiz (Team Lehigh): Has been playing Rocket League for one year, enjoys hockey and hanging out with friends.

#UnifiedGeneration

Inclusive Health Spotlight: Columbia/Montour Walking Club

We are so proud of our Special Olympics Pennsylvania athletes, families and volunteers in Columbia/Montour who have been coming together almost every week to participate in a walking club led by Athlete Leaders. What began as a group of friends walking together in the mall has now become a wonderful addition to their trainings and health and fitness routines. They have found ways to add fun to their weekly walks such as including balloons into their walking to help work on their balance.

They also have enjoyed socializing together after their walks and have even celebrated birthdays together. The have recently moved their walking to the local YMCA. Way to go Columbia/Montour walking club on staying active and fit!

Athlete Leaders, called Health and Fitness Coordinators, can plan and offer year round walking clubs. By offering a club, athletes, unified partners, coaches, families and volunteers have the opportunity to become more healthy and fit where they live, not just at Special Olympics Pennsylvania events. Local and ongoing opportunities are where people will experience a difference in their health and fitness!  

If you would like to start a walking club for your local program consider becoming a Health and Fitness Coordinator. Like any Athlete Leader, a Health and Fitness Coordinator must also have a Mentor. If you don’t have a Mentor, please contact Jordan Schubert at jschubert@specialolympicspa.org as well as your Local Program Manager/Director. Once you have a Mentor, you will then be given instructions on next steps towards becoming a Health and Fitness Coordinator.

Please visit this link for more information!

Inclusive Health Spotlight: SO FUNfitness

FUNfitness was developed in collaboration with the American Physical Therapy Association and provides athletes the opportunity to be screened for flexibility, functional strength, and balance. The screenings are provided by physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, or physical therapy students.

Special Olympics Pennsylvania developed a unique partnership with American Physical Therapy Association- Pennsylvania to provide volunteers for the FUNfitness events. 

Special Olympics Pennsylvania also partners with universities to provide student volunteers for FUNfitness events.

This experience provides opportunities for physical therapy students to interact with athletes with intellectual disabilities while also gaining experience in the screening process.

Research shows that over 80 percent of healthcare providers are not professionally trained to treat people with intellectual disabilities.  By partnering with Universities, we are directly addressing this issue and providing students with this training and experiences.

We caught up with Natalie Albright, a former student (who is now a PT working with children with intellectual disabilities), to see what she had to say about FUNfitness! Check it out:

Participating in this event made me realize that I may be seriously interested in working with individuals with intellectual disabilities one day.  This was something that I had only briefly considered previously because I was never sure if I would be able to do it. 

Overall, it was really awesome to get to be a part of something bigger than myself and to see how much the Special Olympics clearly means to all those involved

I feel as though I was able to learn a lot through experiencing new situations firsthand (which is my favorite, most effective way to learn), while also helping a fantastic organization.  I appreciate any opportunity to apply what we have been learning about in our classes to real-life situations because it serves as reassurance that all the lectures we sit through really do matter and will benefit us in our careers. I regret never getting involved with the Special Olympics before this point, but I am grateful to have had the chance to get involved now and I hope to return to volunteer in the future.

Natalie Albright

If you’d like to learn more about #InclusiveHealth and FUNfitness, please visit www.specialolympicspa.org/health-programs.

Celebrating Sue Paterno

Thirty years ago, Sue Paterno joined the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Board of Directors!

We are honored to have Sue’s ongoing commitment, leadership, and advocacy for Special Olympics Pennsylvania and our athletes.

Whether through supporting the Beaver Stadium Run, Summer Games or many of our other statewide events and competitions, Sue is still as determined as ever to make a lasting impact!

Happy Anniversary, Sue. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all you’ve done to support people with intellectual disabilities in our beautiful commonwealth!