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Lauren Lewis
BY Lauren Lewis

Special Needs Organization of the Month: Special Olympics

Type in “Special Needs Organizations” into Google and over hundreds of millions of results show up in seconds.  Each of these organizations has its own mission, purpose, and concept, but they share in common the goal of helping others. This can mean recreationally, financially, or even medically. Each month at the Friendship Circle Resource Blog, we will be highlighting one of the countless Special Needs Organizations and advocates around the world.

Because the US Special Olympics had their opening ceremony Sunday, it only makes sense to begin this series by highlighting the amazing work that the Special Olympics does all over the world.

What is the Special Olympics?

Special Olympics  Who We AreThe mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

History of the Special Olympics

In the 1950s and 60s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw a need in the community. People with intellectual disabilities were not being treated fairly. They certainly did not have a place to play. To combat this, she held a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her own backyard.

The goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and other activities – and not dwell on what they could not do. In July of 1968, after years of hard work, the  first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, USA. A thousand people with intellectual disabilities from 26 U.S. states and Canada compete in track and field and swimming.

For a full timeline of the Special Olympics, please visit

The Special Olympics Today: By the Numbers

  • Offers 32 Olympic-style individual and team sports
  • Over 4.2 million Special Olympic athletes served –ages 8 years old and up
  • Over 70,278 competitions 
  • Training takes place 365 days a year in over 170 countries
  • 220 worldwide locations
  • Over 100 international corporate partners, including FIFA, ESPN, and UNICEF
  • Over 741 Clinics and 106,427 athlete screenings as a part of the Sustaining Athlete Health program

A Special Olympics Story

In every corner of the earth, Special Olympics is changing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. The story section on the Special Olympics website shares stories that come from all around the world. There are hundreds of stories here showing newsworthy items in the Special Olympics community, from families sharing their triumphs to volunteers sharing their side of the organization. One story about Laurentin Zelko caught my eye:

laurentinWhen Laurentin was born, the doctors told his parents they should leave him because he was not worth anything. But Laurentin’s parents loved their child. Laurentin did not learn to walk until he was four and at age five he spoke his first word, “mama”.

Eventually they found Special Olympics. “Special Olympics is our life. It has given me strength and confidence and made us so proud.” Not only has Special Olympics sport provided many opportunities for Laurentin, but through Healthy Athletes, it was discovered that Laurentin had a severe hearing problem.

The doctor who saw Laurentin at Healthy Athletes Healthy Hearing told him to come see her at the hospital in Bucharest for treatment, and now Laurentin is able to hear and is not longer in pain. Prescription glasses were also given to Laurentin at Opening Eyes.“We are so grateful for Special Olympics,” says Alexandru “it has been a challenging journey, and Special Olympics has greatly improved the health and well-being of our son.”

To find a local chapter of Special Olympics or to get involved, check out: Special Olympics

Lauren Lewis

Written on June 16, 2014 by:

Lauren Lewis began working at the Friendship Circle in May 2012 as the Communications and Event Coordinator. After participating in Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan and meeting some amazing kids with special needs, Lauren fell in love with the cause and never stopped advocating. When not at the Friendship Circle, she is wearing maize and blue and enjoying life in Detroit. You can connect with Lauren on LinkedIn.