How do you measure?….. How do you describe?…. How do you participate?! These are questions in my mind as I write this post to capture Gladney Center’s volunteer experience in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.
But, I’m not going to have to come up with an answer to any of those questions today (phew!) because actually, the question I need to answer (because it’s been asked a lot) is “WHAT is the connection between Gladney‘s Superkids Program and the Special Olympics?” So, ok, let me give it my best shot here.
Gladney’s Superkids Program has always been about participation and inclusion. And that’s what the Special Olympics organization is also about. In its first year, almost 20 years ago, Superkids performed its first medical screenings for children abandoned and living in institutions in China with the hope that, in spite of their “special needs” we could increase the quality of their daily care and lives. Most of the children did not have adoption files prepared because of their medical needs. The screenings allowed caregivers to learn more about the health of the children. From this, specialized care was possible and so were opportunities for additional treatment. During the screenings, abilities were noted and emphasized and caregivers were encouraged to see beyond a child’s needs and limitations.
Superkids trips have always been staffed by adoption advocates who believe that all human lives have value and that children need permanency within a loving family to help them grow healthily. Superkids soon organically grew its mission from beyond improving daily care to also advocating for adoption opportunities. We encouraged institutions to prepare more adoption files for children who had previously not been considered for adoption due to a disability. We simultaneously worked to increase adoptive parent outreach for the children so that they too would have the opportunity of adoption.
Too many children are invisible to the eyes of potential adoptive parents. So this is where Superkids plays a role. We work with our partner organizations to meet as many adoptable children as we are able on each International trip we plan. Our volunteer teams of health professionals, adoption social workers, and photographers, join with Gladney staff to work flexibly to learn about each child. Upon return to the United States we organize our information and thoughts and begin communicating and connecting on behalf of the child to find an adoptive family through responsible use of social media, like-minded adoption advocacy partners, emails, and phone calls.
This is how Superkids plays a role in supporting the children we meet. Hundreds of children met by our Superkids teams have been adopted and are participating more fully in life — their life — from the base of a healthy and prepared family support system.
If there is one thing we have learned from volunteering at the Special Olympics USA games, it’s that we all can participate. We can train and make sacrifices and overcome obstacles. We can belong and excel and celebrate our achievements. We can be disappointed, and confused, and frustrated. And we can try again tomorrow, but only if we are brave and only if we have support.
The Gladney Superkids program was proud to show up and participate in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando with a VolunTeam 21 participants strong!
If you would like information on participating in a future Superkids trip, email Superkids@gladneycenter.org. Volunteers with pediatric clinical backgrounds are always needed!
Director, Asia Program Social Services