The Special Olympics Club at the University of Minnesota is a student organization that channels all of their energy into their mission statement: “Revealing the champion in all of us.” By spreading their message on and off campus, this club is continuously promoting inclusivity and equality among folks with and without disabilities. I was luck enough to chat with the club’s co-president Kayla Roiland to hear more about the group and what they’re up to on campus. Here’s a glimpse of what I learned:
Q: What is your best memory while being a part of this group?
A: Our best memory being a part of this group is playing in Unified Sports and getting the opportunity to participate in athletics with these wonderful kids! This past year, one of our teams took first place in their bracket at the state tournament. While just being out there with the kids and having fun is more than enough, seeing their faces when we took first place was priceless. The athletes and Unified partners are beyone grateful for the opportunities Special Olympics presents them and getting to be playing football or basketball or any other sport by their side and seeing their pure joy is what our club is all about. We’ve built relationships with these athletes since our club was founded almost two years ago, and seeing their progress in sports, school and life in general since we first started working with them is incredibly rewarding.
Q: What are your group’s current ambitions and goals?
A: The biggest ambition our club has is to reach as many students and members of campus [as possible] with the message of Special Olympics. We want everyone to celebrate the abilities that our athletes have and focus on how we are all more alike than we are different. Our goal is to continue encouraging our campus to show respect, inclusion and acceptance of everyone despite any physical or intellectual disability they may have. Additionally, we hope to grow the amount of people involved in our club and our activities. Our club just started at the beginning of the Fall 2015 semester and we have grown more than we could hope for since then. We don’t plan to stop the growth of our involvement any time soon and hope to recruit as many UMN students as possible. Lastly, we would love to get our university athletics department involved in the development of our club. Our Special Olympics athletes look up to collegiate athletes and we would love to get them more involved in our movement!
Q: What upcoming activities or events will your group be hosting or a part of?
A: One of our biggest upcoming events is the Polar Plunge, which will take place at Lake Calhoun on March 4th, 2017. This is a fundraising event for Special Olympics Minnesota which our club will participate in. Anyone participating in the event has their own webpage where they invite friends and family members to donate to the cause. Once they raise $75 or more, they officially get to take the plunge! We jump into Lake Calhoun at the beginning of March and it is freezing. We like to quote that we are “freezin’ for a reason” as we jump into the water! This is a huge fundraiser for both Special Olympics Minnesota and for our club. For our club, the money raised through students participating with us allows us to fund the events and activities we put on for the athletes we work with. Another fun event coming up for one of our Unified Basketball teams is playing at the Gopher-Madison Men’s Basketball halftime show. We will be scrimmaging at halftime and are very excited Gopher Sports Marketing has given our athletes this opportunity to play and showcase our team! We also put on other events throughout the semester where we bring athletes to campus and get our club members involved with them. We host holiday parties and sports clinics on campus and volunteer off campus at events run by Special Olympics Minnesota throughout the year.
Q: How does this group contribute to the community on campus?
A: We encourage an environment that focuses on inclusion and acceptance of all people despite any physical or intellectual disabilities. Members of our club spread our mission through public events we have on campus, such as hosting an “R Word Campaign” on the walking bridge between East & West Bank. During this event, we encourage students on campus to hear our mission and invite them to sign a banner, pledging to stop the use of the ‘R Word’ and choose to demonstrate respect instead. Through this campaign, we encourage people to “Spread the Word to End the Word” as this term is very offensive and outdated. By putting on events like this and reaching out to our campus, we hope to create a culture of respect and inclusion amongst our fellow students. Also, just by bringing our athletes to campus and having students/club members interact with them we are able to facilitate this culture of inclusion and equality and get people to carry this on through every aspect of their life, not just at our events.
Q: How does one get involved with your organization?
A: Students can get involved with us by simply attending our meetings and events during the semester. A lot of our communication goes through our email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We send out many emails regarding the events we are putting on or participating in, and students are able to sign up this way.
Our group is made up of so many wonderful students on our campus. We really are more than just a student group. The students that are constantly involved in our events have become friends in and outside of the club. While we focus our efforts on Special Olympics events, on occasion we host events just for our club members to get to know each other. We have had events like game night for club members and even hosted a pre-Polar Plunge brunch last year where we fueled up to jump in the freezing water and were able to just hang out as friends.
Participating in our club is so much more than just volunteering. You truly get to be a part of a movement and know that you are impacting the lives of Special Olympics athletes.
A special thank you to Kayla Roiland, co-president of SOUMN, who talked with me all about this amazing student group! Check out their Facebook page to learn more!