Brittney Sanchez: Miami Service Project 2021

Photo of Brittney Sanchez. By Brittney Sanchez / CC BY 4.0

Hello! My name is Brittney Sanchez. I am a junior at Florida International University in the beautiful city of Miami, Florida. I have an Associate in Arts degree in Pre-Recreational Therapy and I am currently in the Honors College pursuing a bachelors degree in Physical Education: Sports and Fitness.  

Who?

Throughout the spring semester I had the privilege of volunteering for the Special Olympics. This organization is a unique place centered on inclusion and acceptance. The Special Olympics is a non profit organization that provides year-round training for athletes with intellectual disabilities. It was founded in 1968 and remains one of the most well known organizations for people with special needs. People of all age groups are welcomed to participate in sport training and olympic style athletic competitions. Through these activities, athletes can excel in their athletic abilities and discover new skills. The sports played in the Special Olympics are similar to the actual Olympics, except that they are modified to allow the athletes with disabilities to participate competitively and safely.

Why?

I have always wanted to work with the disabled population, and the moment I heard about the Special Olympics, I knew that I wanted to take part in this organization. I started volunteering in the Fall of 2020 and I wanted to continue volunteering for them in the Spring, because they hold such a special place in my heart. Volunteering for the Special Olympics perfectly combined my love for helping people with special needs get physically active, and my passion for sports. I wanted to help the athletes in the Special Olympics develop movement skills and improve their movement performance to help them compete to the best of their abilities.

How?

After the Fall semester, I emailed Danielle Kent, the Assistant Manager of Sports, Health and Fitness.

Screenshot of email thread. Photo taken by Brittney Sanchez / CC BY 4.0

Sadly, the program had ended, but Danielle provided me with some additional contacts.

Screenshot of email thread. Photo taken by Brittney Sanchez / CC BY 4.0

After reading the options, I chose to email Misha Payne from Southeast Florida.

Screenshot of email thread. Photo taken by Brittney Sanchez / CC BY 4.0

After many failed attempts to reach Misha, she was finally able to get in contact with me and we spoke over the phone regarding my interest in the Special Olympics and basic information on the volunteering requirements. After the phone call, I sent her a few more questions via email.

Screenshot of email thread. Photo taken by Brittney Sanchez / CC BY 4.0

Once everything was clarified, we set up an orientation meeting that took place on February 24th. The following email was the last email update regarding the Zoom class.

Screenshot of email thread. Photo taken by Brittney Sanchez / CC BY 4.0

I told Misha that my sister wanted to join me as well, and we both signed the necessary documentations to teach the dance class on Mondays from 4:30-5 pm, March 8th to April 26th. After we both spoke to Misha over the phone, we were ready to volunteer for the group homes.

Where and What?

Photo of Brittney Sanchez teaching a dance class. Photo by Ashley Sanchez / CC BY 4.0

The Special Olympics hosts many Zoom classes throughout the week to keep the athletes engaged throughout the pandemic. These classes range anywhere from health and nutrition classes, to fitness and dance classes to help keep them physically active. My sister and I taught the 30 minute dance class to help get them motivated and excited about being active. Our first class occured on Monday, March 8th. I sent Misha my private Zoom link, and she sent it out to the group homes. At our first meeting, we all introduced ourselves and they found it fascinating how Ashley and I were twins. They loved speaking to us about everyone in their group homes and all their friends. Although it was a small group, 4-10 participants each week, we created memorable bonds with them.

Photo of Brittney Sanchez teaching a dance class. Photo by Ashley Sanchez / CC BY 4.0

Each class consisted of a dynamic warm up, a few dances, and a final stretch. We would login a few minutes before the meeting to check our audio and camera visibility. Although we had some techincal difficulties throughout some of the classes, we were able to fix some of these issues with the help of Misha. She was able to join and help us with our technical issues and to give us some advice on how to engage more with the athletes while we taught them the dance moves. One of the first classes, we asked them for song suggestions and they said they wanted to dance the Electric Slide. Ever since then, we played the Electric Slide almost every single Zoom meeting and they really enjoyed dancing and singing along to it. We chose many different dance routines from many different genres. For example, we played songs from the Greatest Showman soundtrack, Ed Sheeran songs, and Disney songs. We ended every Zoom call with some stretching, and they always thanked us for the meeting. We were required to ask for the names of the athletes and to send Misha the final attendance sheet after every meeting.

Screenshot of Special Olympics Participants. Photo by Brittney Sanchez / CC BY 4.0

When?

Screenshot of Honors engagement. Photo by Brittney Sanchez / CC BY 4.0

Summary

Overall, volunteering for the Special Olympics has been a memorable experience. I loved getting to know each and every one of the athletes that joined our weekly Zoom meetings, and I hope to continue volunteering for such an incredible organization. I loved seeing the smiles on their faces, and all their comments. They were always very appreciative and loved to guess who was Ashley and who was Brittney.

Although it was a great experience, I believe there is room for improvement. Misha always seemed very busy, and it was very hard to get in contact with her. She had told us that she would try to join almost all of the Zoom meetings, but she was only able to join one of them. Also, there were a few meetings that the athletes did not show up because the group home leader was not informed ahead of time. In the future, I hope that the managers will reach out to the group home leaders with enough time for the athletes to be able to join every Zoom meeting.

Through this experience, I was able to learn more about the Special Olympic athletes and how to get them motivated. At first, it was pretty difficult to get their attention because they were surrounded by many other athletes in their home. They would turn on their cameras, but many of them were distracted or unwilling to engage in the dance routine. The athletes are not technically required to participate, so there was not much we could do, other than to encourage them to participate and ask for their input in song suggestions. After a few meetings, we were able to know their names, know them more personally, and help them stay motivated throughout the entire Zoom call. Although their attendance was not perfect, I truly enjoyed teaching them and creating unforgettable memories.

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