Dozens of special needs students from Lexington-Richland School District Five elementary schools, jumped, rolled and raced their way to finish lines as part of the Special Olympics Young Athletes Expo held at Spring Hill High School March 15.
The event started as a service project for Spring Hill High School’s Students in Action (SIA) club five years ago. The SIA is a unique youth service, leadership and recognition program that supports, trains and empowers youth to be leaders, problem solvers, entrepreneurs and impactful global citizens. Their mission is by serving others they will multiply good in the community.
Event organizer and Students in Action club president, Jenne Taylor said preparations for the event began last year. She said while it is a lot of hard work, it is worth it in the end.
“I just want the students to have fun. I think it is so important that they come here and they have fun and are excited to participate and have a good time,” Taylor said.
Special needs students ages seven and younger were invited from district elementary schools to take part in the expo that ran for three hours. Spring Hill High students in the Students in Action club led and organized the event, which included sports activities, face painting and opening and closing ceremonies. The events and games help give the students a preview of what it’s like to participate in the Special Olympics.
Special Olympics SC Vice President of Programs Barbara Oswald was impressed with the leadership and dedication it took from the student leaders to put this event on and make it so successful for everyone involved.
“From the standpoint of the Special Olympics the most important thing for us is having a generation coming up that is going to have an inclusive mindset,” Oswald said. “To me the more we can get high schoolers, middle schoolers, and elementary students to interact with students of different abilities, the more likely we will have a more inclusive community down the road.”
High school students volunteered to assist during the expo, running different stations and also served as buddies to the special needs athletes. Organizers said the students who volunteer learn empathy and gain insight on the abilities and needs of special needs students.