The Day that “Changed My Family Forever”

The Kettle Family are great leaders and ambassadors of the Special Olympics Mission. Below Colleen Kettle shares her story (What she doesn’t mention is the great work that her and her son Andrew do in being volunteer leaders of our annual Special Olympics Basketball Tournament at Weston High School)…

In 2004, while I was sitting in the Middle School cafeteria waiting for my two older daughters to finish their play rehearsal, a group of male athletes dressed in basketball uniforms walked by me. I assumed they were there to play our high school team. When a group of younger boy and girl athletes, accompanied by students from Weston High School, walked by, I was curious, so I stopped one of the students and asked him what was going on. He told me Weston High School was hosting the Special Olympics Basketball Qualifiers, something they do every year. I was shocked because I thought Special Olympics (SO) was only for people with Down Syndrome and clearly not all the athletes had that condition. As soon as I got home I visited the SO website and learned that its mission is to provide year round athletic training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities (that includes many conditions such as Down Syndrome). That day changed my family forever because I have a son, Jeffrey, who has intellectual disabilities. At the time he was nine years old; he loved sports but the pace of the games in traditional sports was overwhelming him so we had to drop him down a grade (we had already held him back in kindergarten so that meant he was playing with kids who were two years younger than him). He was friendly and outgoing but none of the other special ed kids at his school were like him. As parents we longed to meet other parents who were going through what we were going through.

 

SOMA athlete Jeff Kettle (in yellow) competing for Boston College Juniors before he went to off to College on Cape Cod.

SOMA athlete Jeff Kettle (in yellow) competing for Boston College Juniors before he went to off to College on Cape Cod.

We immediately signed up for the Special Olympics basketball team at Boston College. The first day Jeffrey and his dad showed up the volunteers made Jeffrey feel like a superstar! While Jeffrey showed off his skills on the basketball court, my husband Frank sat on the sidelines and talked to the other parents. Boy, did he learn a lot! For the first time he could share his concerns and have someone empathize and/or offer a solution. The off the court time was as valuable as the on the court time. Jeffrey was a member of the younger team, the BC Juniors, who practiced at the same time as the senior team, so Frank got to know many of the older players who were quite outgoing. When the qualifiers were held at Milton Academy that year, a location not accessible by public transportation, Frank offered to drive some of the adult athletes. He learned that they lived in a group home near the Green Line and they alternated cooking (depending on the person assigned, some nights were great and all agreed some were awful). It made him smile because he could imagine a future for Jeffrey in a house on the Green Line near BC with fellow residents who loved (or hated) his cooking.

 

Fast forward: Jeffrey is turning twenty-one this month and he is finishing his fourth year at a residential school on the Cape for students with special needs called Riverview School. When he started at the age of 17 ½, his reading level was grade 2.6 (second grade, sixth month) in September but by June his reading level was 5.8 (grade five, eighth month). We were thrilled because it told us that the goals previously set for him were low and that some people need to be taught in a different way. His four years there have been amazing! He has made friends (and girlfriends), some of whom were people he previously competed against in Special Olympics. and he is a three-season athlete at Riverview as well as a coach for the high school teams AND he competes on the Special Olympics Sandwich Sharks swim team. In June Jeffrey will graduate from his work program and he will move into a privately owned staffed group home in Newton Highlands on the Green Line where nine other residents like him (many of whom are from Riverview) live. He will continue to compete in Special Olympics, most likely at BC, and we hope he will meet people like Frank who will drive him to games when public transportation is not an option. I am confident Jeffrey will charm them with his conversational skills because I don’t think he will be able to do so with his cooking!

Colleen Kettle

A mom who is grateful WHS hosted the games in 2004 and is now happily the parent advisor for the WHS Class of 2017, who has the honor of hosting the games for their four years at WHS.

Give Love Away!!

By Keri Mandell, who’s running the 2015 Boston Marathon for Special Olympics Massachusetts. 

When I started to think about this month’s theme of Love, I reflected on what love means to me and the role love plays in my life.  For me, love is about discovering what we value most in our hearts, minds, and souls and finding ways to share it with the world.  Loving and being loved are what make our lives worth living: it gives us energy to get up each day and keep going.  It gives our lives purpose and meaning. To love and to be loved is a wonderful gift. more

More on Team Special Olympics Massachusetts here

Special Olympics and Bank of America Unite Again

Athletes run in Special Olympics MA School event.

Athletes run in Special Olympics MA School event.

As you may have seen on Good Morning America, Special Olympics and Bank of America are partnering to launch the first ever Unified Relay Across America. This is the latest initiative in a long-standing partnership between both organizations that has impact nationally and locally.

Locally, Bank of America has been a great partner of Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) for many years. In 2015, Bank of America has provided SOMA with a $25,000 grant and will be the Presenting Partner of SOMA’s “School Day Games”.  The largest component of SOMA’s school partnership programs, “School Day Games” are one-day events offering athletic competition for students and school teams. These events involve entire school communities. They are designed to introduce participants to Special Olympics, while also promoting acceptance, inclusion, and opportunity for all students.  Thanks in large part to Bank of America,  SOMA and its school partners will organize over 31 “School Day Games” state-wide in 2015, with over 400 schools and 4,500 athletes participating.

Please stay tuned for more information about this great and dynamic partnership between Bank of America and Special Olympics.

Fully Alive

The following is by Susan Senator, a writer, activist and the mother of a Special Olympics athlete. 

On December 9th I attended Tim Shriver’s book event at the JFK Library in Boston as a guest of Special Olympics Massachusetts. The book Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most, is a combination memoir, biography, and philosophical piece by Special Olympics Chairman Tim, son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who started Special Olympics. WBUR’s Deborah Becker joined Tim and facilitated the conversation with a masterful subtlety.

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Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver with WBUR’s Deborah Becker at the JFK Library.

As expected, Tim talked about the disability movement, and how it originated largely due to his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, who was the first president to invite an intellectually disabled person to the White House, who helped launch several initiatives to research intellectual disability and began the movement to close institutions. Tim also discussed the influences in his life: his mom and his Aunt Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. The delightful surprise was hearing Tim talk about his own exploration of mysticism and how it all led back to the disability movement. “You have to come to an interior place,” he said, “And in that space, you will become who you are.” That’s his mind-bending way of saying that once you can relax enough into just being yourself, you will finally know what’s important in life. He illustrated this philosophy but asking us, the audience, to imagine a United States where everyone is employed. Everyone, even the intellectually disabled. “Can you imagine that?” he asked, smiling. We didn’t realize at first that he was actually asking us to imagine it. So we did. “Now that you have imagined it, you should try to figure out how to make it so. But first you have to be invited to imagine it.” That imagining is not something most of us are asked to do.

But Special Olympic Athletes are asked to imagine succeeding — perhaps for the first time in their lives. Everywhere else they are “accommodated.” Educated –by mandate, and if you think about it, that implies that you have to do it. Because the law requires it. But in Special Olympics, the Athlete can imagine himself winning, all out, sweaty and panting. The first three words of the Special Olympics oath itself epitomizes this: “Let me win.” (Hey, by the way, do “Real” Olympic Athletes have an oath? Hmmm.)

It is a challenge speaking and writing about Special Olympics and the disability rights movement because everyone already thinks they know what you’re going to say: “Awww, it’s just so doggone special.” This is the basic reaction when you mention Special Olympics. Yes, dammit, of course, but that’s so beside the point. What makes Special O truly special, is that it is one place in life where the “fun is important, and the important is fun,” as Tim put it. “We have a backwards view of Special Olympics,” he said. “We’re trying to prove that our athletes are just like everyone else, that they’re going to fit in.” But the great secret of Special Olympics is that when you come over to their world, the world of the athletes, you get a chance to be just exactly who you are. Everyone involved with Special Olympics gets the chance to be, no matter where they start. You come to an event and you see people you are not used to looking at. Down syndrome, everywhere. People with autism flapping, people dragging walkers. All ages, all shapes. You’re in the minority. You with your big shot Able body. You are not the star there. If you’re a volunteer, a coach, or even the President of Special Olympics, at the games you are wearing a team tee shirt, not a coat and tie. So you relax. If you’re a parent like me, you are not judged. Or pitied. Better yet, your kid is not judged — except by the refs, the timekeepers. This is a sports competition, after all, so some people get the fastest or highest score. Only some get the gold medal. They all want it, but they don’t all get that gold and that in itself is spectacular. There are standards, but somehow, there is also equality.

How is that possible? Sportsmanship. And there is no good sport like a Special Olympian. If I may make a sweeping generalization: they know how it feels to be humbled. Tim, who has met world leaders and shmoozed the best of the best minds, described how Nelson Mandela was a Special Olympics fan, showing up when he wasn’t even expected. And so Tim asked Mandela to “teach” him” some of his incredible life’s lessons.

“I learned what every prisoner knows,” Mandela said. “Humility and simplicity. But you don’t need me to teach you,” he said. “You have the athletes.”

Susan Senator
susansenator.com

Another win for Wheaton’s Women’s Basketball

NORTON, Mass. – The Wheaton College women’s basketball team and the Mansfield 7th graders pledge to “End the R Word” story has won the NCAA Division III Special Olympics Spotlight Poll for the month of November after receiving 2,368 votes. More

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Reilly receives “Samantha Marcia Stevens Award”

Melissa was surprised and thrilled by receiving the award from Brian and Kathy Stevens

Melissa was surprised and thrilled by receiving the award from Brian and Kathy Stevens.

Melissa Reilly, 28, of Boxborough was recently honored at Gillette Stadium during the Special Olympics Massachusetts State Flag Football Championships with the “Samantha Marcia Stevens Award”. The award is presented to honor excellence in raising positive awareness for the skills and strengths of people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.

Reilly is an accomplished Special Olympics athlete. She has given numerous speeches including the keynote address at the 2009 Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress and the 2012 Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame. A graduate of Acton-Boxborough High School and a student at Middlesex Community College, Melissa is on staff in the office of State Senator Jamie Eldridge. Melissa has also been inducted into the Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame in 2010.

The Stevens family (Brian Jr., Josie, Brian, Kathy), Melissa Reilly, Former NFL Player Steve Deiossie, SOMA President and CEO Mary Beth McMahon

The Stevens family (Brian Jr., Josie, Brian, Kathy), Melissa Reilly, Former NFL Player Steve Deiossie, SOMA President and CEO Mary Beth McMahon.

The award was presented by Brian and Kathryn Stevens, advocates from Marlborough, who named the award after their daughter Samantha, an eight-year old with Down syndrome. “If it were not for heroes like Melissa Reilly, my Wife and I’s charitable endeavors may have gone differently,” said Brian Stevens, “she has inspired us to be even better and donate even more to the programs that enhance her, as well as Samantha’s life.”

Previously the Stevens family had presented this award to Lauren Potter, an actress with Down syndrome who stars in the television series, Glee.