Young Athletes Program Builds Skills, Friendships among Elementary Students and SONM Athletes
Schack, Fred, Palaestra
Terry Wilson's fourth grade class gathers in the cafeteria for their instructions. They then file out of the room only to return hand in hand with their new little buddies. Music begins to fill the room, and is soon drowned out by infectious laughter.
In 2007, Special Olympics, Inc. introduced a new initiative called the Young Athletes Program (YAP), to reach out to children ages 2-7 and introduce them to sports. The age of eligibility to train and compete in Special Olympics is age eight and older. Through sports, children with intellectual disabilities can learn social skills at a young age. The program has benefited over 10,000 children worldwide since its inception. Volunteers work with the Young Athletes, using physical activities to develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
"The YAP allows Special Olympics New Mexico (SONM) to further serve New Mexicans with intellectual disabilities by reaching a new generation of athletes and their families while creating a collaborative partnership with the schools. The relationship between the new Young Athletes and their fourth grade peers is amazing to watch, and as the students grow in their understanding of each other and their different abilities, we create a foundation for the continuing mission of our organization," said Victoria Gonzales, Young Athletes Program Director. This year, SONM is partnering with Albuquerque's Chaparral Elementary for the pilot of the Young Athletes Program. Mr. Wilson's fourth grade class was inspired to help with the program, and have been paired up with the Young Athletes from their school.
The Program at Chaparral Elementary began at the end of January, 2010, and is headed by educators Michelle Chavez and Pita Hopkins. Once a week, Mr. Wilson's class meets with the young athletes to work on sports skills and training that they will use before hundreds of SONM fans coming up at this years' State Summer Games. …