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Every year, hundreds of athletes hope their hard work pays off as they line up to compete at the Michigan Special Olympics State Winter Games. It’s the coaches, chaperones, families and volunteers, like Olivet College students, that make sure every athlete gets a shot at achieving their dreams – and they have a blast while doing it. Just this year, 867 athletes participated in the State Winter Games near Traverse City from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, and six Comets stepped up to volunteer as facilitators.

Savannah Hickman, Sarah Swiercz, Sofiya Stumpos, Anton McMillon, Raltheal Cornish and Jack Ennis took a break from their own studies and schedules to spend a few days helping put a smile on someone else’s face. That’s thanks in part to one OC professor who goes a step above and beyond teaching social responsibility. For the last few years, KayDee Perry, assistant  professor of health and human performance, has coordinated volunteers for the Special Olympics organization in Eaton and Calhoun counties. She models service learning and social responsibility for her students in the classroom and in life. As a result, many Olivet students are inspired to volunteer for the local Special Olympics spring field day or the State Winter Games.

“This was an amazing opportunity for Olivet students to experience sports and recreation firsthand,” Professor Perry exclaimed. “This is service learning beyond just being inclusive. Students experienced event planning and structure for all accommodations, food, sleeping arrangements and transportation.”

Junior Sarah Swiercz volunteered with the Special Olympics for the first time this year, but said she felt at home right away in such an inclusive environment at the State Winter Games, reminding her of many of the same core values upheld at Olivet College. Sarah is studying exercise science with a career goal to work in chiropractic care and jumped at the chance to do good while becoming more comfortable working with a variety of people. She is already looking forward to other opportunities to volunteer in similar environments.

“I would highly recommend everyone who is able to volunteer with the Special Olympics takes advantage of the opportunity,” Sarah said. “It was very rewarding seeing the athletes interact with one another and how happy everyone was to be there. Everyone was very welcoming, which provided a very inclusive environment for all.” She added that being more and doing good means both helping others and helping yourself to be the best possible. She has a new appreciation for how large of a positive impact a person can make on someone else’s life with just a little time and a lot of dedication.

Sarah and other students stayed with athletes for the week and were responsible for helping them get to and from their events. They were often awake before 6 a.m. and stayed up past midnight to help athletes make the most of their week. Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, speed skating, snowboarding and snowshoeing were the main events on the schedule, fitting in meals, meetings, important ceremonies and even autograph signing sessions as well.

“Our students have big hearts and realize the world is bigger than them,” Professor Perry said. “Volunteering can change students for the better. Often students get more than they give by participating in Special Olympics.”

Learn more about Olivet College and the ways students give back by scheduling a visit or contacting the Office of Admissions at admissions@olivetcollege.edu or 800.456.7189. For future Comets especially interested in service learning, be sure to ask about Difference Maker scholarship opportunities.

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