In alignment with its national “servant leader” initiative, the NAIA has partnered with Special Olympics North America. The partnership provides our student-athletes with the opportunity to demonstrate the five core values of the Champions of Character® program by serving the needs of others first. NAIA student-athletes may participate in any existing Special Olympics events, create their own events, or provide support to Special Olympics through different initiatives.
Special Olympics athletes, individuals with intellectual disabilities, will be invited to participate in Teaming Up For Character™ events at select conference and national championships. In addition, NAIA student-athletes will be encouraged to partner will local Special Olympics programs to establish on-campus engagement. These inclusive opportunities will provide a unique chance for Special Olympics athletes to be a part of the NAIA experience.
The NAIA’s Association of Student-Athletes (ASA), which represents the voice of the 65,000 student-athletes, believes that working with Special Olympics will elevate the attributes of becoming a servant leader, such as being “called,” building community, growing personally and professionally, stewarding resources, and learning the value of empathy.
According to Anne Weber-Callahan, Chairperson of the NAIA’s ASA, “the NAIA is recognized for its Champions of Character program with the goal of changing the culture of athletics through sport. This program based on five core values, including integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership, provides a framework for student-athletes to work towards understanding and achieving that goal. This partnership with Special Olympics enables NAIA student-athletes to live out, in a meaningful way, what it means to be a servant leader.”
For Special Olympics, this partnership as a great way to continue to break down barriers and create connections between individuals with and without intellectual disabilities. A main priority of Special Olympics is its Unified Champion Schools program. This program uses sports as foundation to promote social inclusion at colleges and universities for individuals with intellectual disabilities through intentionally planned and implemented activities affecting systems-wide change. Through bringing together student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes, this partnership will open the door to the possibility of NAIA institutions becoming Unified Champion Schools.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with the NAIA to grow this program among all of the member schools. When university students and Special Olympics athletes play together in Unified Sports, co-lead advocacy and awareness on campus, and engage the student body in fun inclusive activities and experiences, everyone benefits,” explains Andrea Cahn, Senior Director, Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools. “Special Olympics athletes gain an opportunity to be a part of campus life, make friends, and be seen as contributing members to the community. Students learn that serving also means accepting people who are different as both teammates and friends. The program builds understanding and strong relationship skills for all involved – leading to a more equitable society.”
Special Olympics describes itself as a global movement of people creating a new world of inclusion and community, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of ability or disability. The student-athletes of the NAIA are excited to partner with Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools nationally to help make the world a better, healthier, and more joyful place.