Kristin Cole ‘21
With Mack Gives Back week right around the corner, Merrimack students are preparing for one of the things they do best: giving back to their community. But at Merrimack, service to the community is not limited to one month out of the year; numerous clubs are offered that help students volunteer and engage with those in need. One of these opportunities is provided by the Special Olympics: Young Athletes Program.
Developed in 2014 by Merrimack alumni, the Special Olympics: Young Athletes Program is a sport and play program for children both with and without intellectual disabilities, with participants ranging from two to seven years old. Their mission is to “provide a fun and safe environment where children can learn and develop.”
Throughout the semester, children learn activities such as running, kicking, and throwing, all basic skills necessary for playing sports like soccer, baseball, and basketball. Additionally, this program helps participating children improve their social skills, which includes sharing, taking turns, and following directions.
“The overall goals of this program are to strengthen and improve each child’s sport and play skills as well as their communication skills. Our club also promotes inclusion in a multitude of different ways such as fundraisers, social media posts, events, and much more,” says program President and current junior Margaret Ford.
In the five years since the program began, there has been a significant increase in both participating athletes and student volunteers. Currently, the program has seven E-Board members, 40 athletes, and 60 student volunteers.
In addition to benefiting disabled children and their families, the Young Athletes Program is a great way for Merrimack students to build a community. According to the program’s mission statement, volunteer students “exhibit compassion, love, and knowledge as they work with young children with special needs.” This program, which also offers service learning hours, is a rewarding experience for volunteers as it not only allows them to form a bond with children in need, but to develop their own communication and leadership skills as they interact with children, parents, and peers.
For YAP President Ford, making a difference for others is one of her favorite aspects of the Special Olympics.
“The best part about this program is being able to make a difference in the lives of the families who join us,” Ford says. “The volunteers from Merrimack are wonderful and really work hard to make each day better than the one before for the athlete. The most rewarding thing is getting to witness the joy a child expresses when they succeed!”
The Young Athletes Program runs on Saturday mornings during the fall and spring semesters.