Since the spring of 2012, Tuesday evenings have taken on a special meaning for a group of Swarthmore College student-athletes.
Tuesday evenings mark the day that the College's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) assists with the Delaware County (Pa.) Special Olympics Track & Field team, which uses the College's Lamb-Miller Field House for its weekly practices during the school year. The practices – which at peak times have included 40 Special Olympic athletes – include throwing, jumping, and running activities. During the practices, student-athletes provide mentorship and encouragement to the participants and have even enjoyed a few competitive races around the field house. The partnership is designed to improve the lives of Special Olympians through their involvement with student-athletes and to foster a mutual learning experience between the two groups.
Throughout the 2013-14 academic year, SAAC representatives Melissa O'Connor '14, a computer science major from Rockaway, N.J. and member of the softball team, Lizzie Kolln '16, a history major from Glen Ridge, N.J. and member of the women's lacrosse team, and Julia Murphy '15, a chemistry major from Denver, Colo. and member of the women's soccer team, actively recruited Swarthmore students and student-athletes to volunteer each week. In addition to more than half of the College's athletic teams volunteering throughout the year, other groups on campus have volunteered their time, including the McCabe Society.
"This experience has been extremely beneficial to me throughout my time at Swarthmore," says O'Connor, who has been volunteering since the partnership began in 2012. "In the three years I've been volunteering, and it's something that I look forward to every week. Even if I'm overwhelmed and stressed out with schoolwork, Tuesday from 7-8 is a time that is blocked out on my calendar."
In addition to the weekly practices, SAAC coordinated multiple initiatives throughout the school year to benefit the Delaware County Special Olympics. During the spring semester, SAAC members took pledges to provide an end-of-season awards ceremony with customized t-shirts and sport bags for the Special Olympians. During the national NCAA Division III Week in early April, SAAC awarded Certificates of Excellence to all of the Special Olympians in attendance. Additionally, the men's basketball team took donations and pledges at Swarthmore's Fun Fair in early May to buy new equipment for future practices. Watch highlights of the April event.
"Until you go out and volunteer, you can't imagine how much of an impact you can make," O'Connor says. "Just spending an hour a week with these inspirational athletes can produce friendships that you'll have for life."