Special Olympics turns dreams into reality

By Mallory Terrence
March 27, 2008

Melissa Terlecki/submitted photo

The Special Olympics of Pennsylvania credits thousands of volunteers for making the athletes’ dream a reality. The organization holds over 300 events and competitions each year, free of charge to more than 18,000 athletes.

Two Cabrini professors, Dr. Melissa Terlecki, assistant professor of psychology, and Dr. David Dunbar, associate professor of biology, along with 16 honor students brought Cabrini College’s passion for volunteering to the slopes of Jack Frost Mountain in the Poconos, to assist during the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Snow Sports Training and Competition 2008.

The event was held on Jan. 28 and ran until the 30. Although Mother Nature was not on their side, with below freezing temperatures and rain, it did not stop the students from being enthusiastic and the athletes from completely enjoying the experience.

“The athletes are always so grateful for and openly appreciative of our help. They look forward to seeing familiar faces, catching up from one year to the next as well as meeting new college students. The athletes are what make the experience worthwhile,” Sam Sauer, sophomore special education major, said.

Dean Charlie McCormick originally started Cabrini’s involvement with Special Olympics winter events in 2004. The relationship began through a special Presidential Initiative that President Iadarola launched in the summer 2003 to encourage faculty to pursue community engagement opportunities. Dean McCormick handed the torch over to Dunbar in 2005 and later Terlecki signed on.

“I find it so meaningful. I feel so good as a person after I leave that event. It’s kind of spiritual for me to be part of this,” Dunbar said.

All volunteers have a place in Special Olympics of Pennsylvania (SOPA) and without the dedication of thousands of Pennsylvania citizens the organization could not exist. The Cabrini volunteers had different levels of ski experience and SOPA was able to designate jobs accordingly. Besides being able to cheer loud and keep a smile upon your face, no specific skills are needed to volunteer.

“We were on the mountain cheering for the athletes and in the lodge when they got their award no matter what place they came in. It’s really important to be supportive and have a genuine interest in the athletes,” Traci Beltz, sophomore exercise science and health promotion major, said.

Beltz, the student assistant of the honors program, had been communicating with SOPA and organizing every detail since early fall. Terlecki and Dunbar attribute the success of this year’s event to Beltz’s selfless dedication and the other students’ fervency for the cause.

Cabrini’s students served as gatekeepers, timers and other supervisory roles while on the mountain. They also decorated for the Victory Dance and were part of the award ceremonies.

“We get such great compliments from Special Olympics every year on how ideated they are to our students for pitching in and helping out. They want us to take more leadership in the years to come because of the great things they see our students do,” Dunbar said.

Although the event is held during the week, it does not stop the students from wanting to be involved year after year. They do not mind having to catch up on course work, they group was even joined by an alumna of Cabrini, Nora Marchetto-Ryan, Class of 2007.

“After the incredible experience I had last year, I knew I would be depriving myself if I did not attend this year. Seeing the athletes smiles and knowing that I’m helping to foster their positive self-image is more rewarding than I could have ever imagined,” Sauer said.

Mallory Terrence

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