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Bridging the Gap

Acceptance, We all want it; from friends, peers, even strangers. Some go to great lengths

to gain acceptance. From the clothes they wear to the homes they buy and even in the cars they

drive. We crave it in the work place, in our community, and in our schools.

Inclusion, all schools strive for it. Behind their walls are a multitude of personalities who

want to be included. Current day school systems share classrooms with the intellectually and

physically disabled. This is called inclusion, which means to keep students with special needs in

a common classroom and bring the support services to the student instead of bringing the student

to the services. However, does this really make the intellectually and physically disabled feel ac-

cepted by their peers? Until everyone works together and learns from each other, then everyone

can truly be accepted.

Community, defined as an interacting population of various kinds of individuals. Our

communities are made up of different religious groups, athletic associations, and service

groupsjust to name a few. In these communities you will find teachers, doctors, firefighters,

police officers, stay at home parents, children, etc. They are also made up of people with physi-

cal and intellectual disabilities who want nothing more than to feel accepted by these communi-

ties. They all have one thing in common, they all have the potential to unify one another as a

community.

Unity, the condition of harmony. The only way to achieve complete unity is to accept

everyone for who they are by including them within our communities. Including someone to

play a game, come to a party, or join a group is a great way to involve others, but that

does not mean that they are necessarily accepted and understood by their peers. Unity

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comes from teaching and learning from one another, which in turn breeds acceptance. When

everyone is truly accepted into the community, it can then become unified.

The communities in our country have done a lot to include people with intellectual and

physical disabilities. However, inclusion is not enough. We need a better understanding of how

acceptance plays the most important role in unifying our society. Temple University has taken

its first strides in doing just that. The university has taken a huge step toward bridging the gap

between people who have intellectual and physical disabilities with those who do not.

In the fall of 2015, under the guidance of Special Olympics Pennsylvania, senior

Gabrielle Salomon and junior special education major Allison Georgescu founded Temple Uni-

versitys very own Special Olympics organization, also known as SOTU. While starting up this

organization, SOTU first had to form a relationship with Special Olympics Pennsylvania. They

keep in touch with them weekly on what activities they plan to have. Special Olympics Pennsyl-

vania has also informed them of the great things they have accomplished for being such a young

organization.

This organization is ran entirely by Temple University students, some of which had a per-

sonal connection to people with intellectual or physical disabilitieswhich is partly why they

joined. For instance, Gabrielle Salomon has a brother with a spectrum disorder, Allison

Georgescu is a Special Education major, and Vice President Nadia Elshami has a cousin who is

mentally disabled and was also involved with special needs students and Special Olympics in her

hometown of South Dakota.

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People involved in this all have a common goalto become a link between Temple Uni-

versity students and Special Olympics. They want people with intellectual and physical disabil-

ities to feel united within Philadelphia and the surrounding communities by creating a judgment

free environment. To ensure this environment they educate their members on what intellectual

and physical disabilities are as well as giving them the chance to interact with people who iden-

tify with intellectual and physical disabilities. They also participate in nearby Special Olympics

events as well as hosting their own events for the disabled. Ali Georgescu, President and Co-

Founder of Special Olympics at SOTU, says that when they attend these events they always em-

phasize watch your language and spread the R-word to end the word because you never

know who you might be offending. By educating their members on what intellectual and physi-

cal disabilities are, they are helping them to become judgment-free and more accepting of others.

Another relationship that was formed during their journey was with Villanova University,

who is coming up on their 28th annual fall state games. Temple gained guidance on how to

properly run this organization through the help of Villanova because of how experienced and

successful they are with their own Special Olympics program. Villanova University has been

involved with Special Olympics since 1979 and is now the official host of the Special Olympics

Pennsylvania fall state games, which is the largest student-run event internationally. The ath-

letes who participate in this event compete in six sports including bocce (a sport similar to bowl-

ing), soccer, power-lifting, roller skating, long distance running, and volleyball. In order to gain

more insight, members of Temples organization attended the Fall Festival.

While SOTU is still a new organization, they were able to a host similar event. Their

plan was to bring in teams from Philadelphia and surrounding areas in order to host their first

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ever soccer tournament. They did just that on Sunday, April 24th on Temple Universitys Am-

bler campus. It was a beautiful sunny day, with a light breeze in the airperfect day for a soccer

tournament. There were participants from Temple as well as Special Olympics athletes from

Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Everyone was emitting positive vibes while waiting for the

games to start. All the participants were excited to start playing, with big determined smiles on

their faces. Once the games started, you could really see the sense of community that SOTU as

an organization brought together. Different people and their families with all different disabili-

ties, spectators without disabilities just there to cheer them on, coaches and referees helping to

move the games forward, it did not matter about winning or losing, everyone was there for the

same purpose. Even though there was not a winner everyone there truly had a great time.

Through hosting this event, Temple University Special Olympics took their first step in

bridging the gap of the intellectually and physically disabled to Philadelphias community. As

stated by Nadia Elshami, Vice President of Special Olympics at Temple University, There are

so many students who identify with intellectual and physical disabilities and are not given the

opportunity in the city to participate in sports, we want to give them this opportunity and bring a

sense of community among these students.

For instance, Amanda Hare, a two-time medalist of Special Olympics in golf, has been

given this opportunity. Amanda and her mother, Deborah Derbyshire, shared the story of

Amandas journey through life and Special Olympics.

Amanda Hare was born with Down-syndrome, a disorder that occurs in people when they

have an extra copy of a chromosome. She was just eight years old when she first started to com-

pete in Special Olympics in the Wissahickon school district in Pennsylvania. Now at 40 years

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old, she still competes in two sports: golf and bowling, with her dad right by her side as her

coach. She loves competing not only for the love of playing, but also meet all types of people.

Competing internationally in Greece and Ireland has introduced her to many different people

from around the world and has allowed her to experience other cultures. When discussing golf,

Amanda gets up and shows me exactly how she would get into formation to putt a perfect hole in

one, with an ending swing of a true medalist. Amanda has competed internationally and has won

medals in golf in both Greece and Ireland.

Some of the challenges she faced with down syndrome are wanting to be married, learn-

ing to drive, and having alopeciaan autoimmune disease that results in hair loss. Amanda be-

lieves that being part of Special Olympics has really helped her with these challenges by helping

her gain self-esteem and independence through the years. As she got older, her independence

grew and she would even leave for her international competitions by herself, days before her par-

ents would arrive. Her mother stated that the more people Amanda meets, the more acceptance

she feels from others. Special Olympics has also given her the chance to learn and understand

other peoples disabilities as well as help people who may be lower functioning than her become

better athletes. She wants to give back to others because so many people have helped her in her

journey to become a better athlete.

In turn, Amandas mother, Deborah, also shared her experience as a parent spectating

Special Olympics. She describes the experience to be incredible; seeing intellectually and physi-

cally disabled athletes come from all over to compete and knowing her daughter was part of that

was one of the biggest thrills of her life. She also described how amazing Special Olympics is

overall as an organization. With much gratification and excitement she explains that when Spe-

cial Olympics hosts an event that they really take care of their participants. From clothing to

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suitcases to transportation and housing, Special Olympics covers all expenses; these expenses are

sponsored by companies such as Nike, providing them with all their clothes for the competition.

The only thing Amanda needs to do is bring her clubs and the desire to win. She also believes

that the difference between the Olympics and Special Olympics is the mindset for competition.

She describes the participants of having true sportsmanship, in every sense of the word.

Amanda will shake an opponents hand and kiss them on the cheek after her competitions. The

participants even trade pins with each other that represent where they are from Deborah states.

Deborah says that Special Olympics has given her a better understanding of other peo-

ples disabilities as well. She said that even though there were some people she has met that

seemed as though their disability would keep them from competing, she has been proved wrong.

There seems to be a niche for everybody she says. Deborah also believes that there are defi-

nitely more opportunities for people with disabilities because of this gain in understanding.

Since the time Amanda first competed, she thinks people have gained a better understanding of

intellectual and physical disabilities through the years that has allowed people to offer more op-

portunities for working conditions than in years past.

In the same fashion, Special Olympics influences more than just its athletes and their

families; it influences everyone around them. To watch someone face challenges and hardships

in their everyday life, to be witness to their perseverance and determination, and to share in their

happiness is nothing short of inspiring. To see their smiles after their events, is the greatest

feeling in the universe Vice President, Nadia states. When someone is inspired, when they are

happy, it can cause a ripple effect to everyone around us.

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Special Olympics focuses on an individual's ability rather than their disability. They can

succeed when given the opportunity. Temple University has always been about opportunity,

from its nationally ranked schools and internships to its competitive sports teams. It is not like

other campuses that are nestled in their own little corner of a city or town. Its main campus

shares its streets with its North Philadelphia residents. Their neighborhood has been overrun

with young college students and their music, their parties, their fraternities, their bikes and penny

boards, and their lifestyle. Special Olympics is a way to bring both the students and residents to-

gether as one, working towards the same goal. That goal is unity; to make everyone feel the con-

dition of harmony within their community. By bringing Special Olympics to its campus, Tem-

ple University has taken its first strides in bridging the gap of unity between these its students

and the Philadelphia community. SOTU is the perfect addition to what this community needs.

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