Even though the Special Olympics Montana State Games finished close to a month ago, my daughter, Alana, is still practicing the gymnastics routine she performed. There is no off-season for Alana.
As she log-rolled across our kitchen floor this morning, I realized that I could not have felt more pride in my hometown. For three years, Billings epitomized the true spirit the games by understanding that they symbolizes so much more than bowling, swimming or track. Special Olympics stands for inclusion, respect, acceptance, friendship, and unity.
For this understanding I want to thank the community. Thank you to the countless volunteers, coaches, sponsors, and fans. Thank you to the small-business owner that posted “Welcome State Special Olympics Athletes” on his storefront sign. Thank you to the staff of the many hotels and restaurants. Thank you to the countless people that took time out to give a smile, a wave, a high-five or a hug to Montana’s athletes with diverse intellectual abilities.
Billings’ time of hosting the games is over and the torch has passed to Missoula. However, much like my daughter still remembers her gymnastics routine, I would like to challenge the community of Billings to remember that our Special Olympics athletes are still here. After the medals and ribbons have been put away, athletes and their families still face many challenges.
The other 362 days of the year, when our children are not in the spotlight of the Special Olympics, they are not always as supported as they could be. As life goes back to usual, I find myself visiting with other parents about challenges such as finding a day care center that will accept a child with medical needs or what to do when the wait lists for supported job opportunities stretch for years after high school.
Sometimes the conversation turns to insurance denying a specialized formula or the desire for our children to attend school with their siblings and neighborhood friends instead of being bused across town to “self-contained” classrooms. Parents need to take these messages to the community that made the games so great.
Please join me and legislative candidates at 6:30 this evening for a forum on disabilities at City College of Montana State University Billings, 3803 Central Avenue, Room 117.
It will be an opportunity to share and learn about current issues within the largest minority group in the United States. Parents, teachers, caregivers, friends, neighbors, and all others are welcome to attend.
A special thanks to Parents, Let’s Unite for Kids; Disability Rights Montana and The Arc Montana for sponsoring this event. For more information contact Mary Caferro at 406-461-2384, firstname.lastname@example.org.
I believe it is not ranting or venting to make others aware of challenges that parents and caregivers face when supporting children and adults with diverse abilities. It is crucial that these stories are told to those who can help to bring back the spirit of inclusion, respect, acceptance, friendship, and unity that we so clearly saw during the games.