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The games of summer

First Upper Valley Special Olympics Summer Games gets helping hand from students, alumni

On Sat., May 21, a dedicated team of 15 Dartmouth student volunteers will coordinate the Upper Valley Special Olympics Summer Games in Lebanon, N.H. The event is the first Summer Special Olympics to be held in the region.


On Sat., May 21, the Upper Valley will host its first Special Olumpics Summer Games. (photo courtesy of Special Olympics of New Hampshire)

Natalie Babij '05 leads the team as Games Director. When she bounced the idea of organizing the summer games off her Tucker Foundation advisor Christopher Cassell, he "really pushed me to make it happen," said Babij. Cassell is the Assistant Director of Dartmouth Community Services at the Tucker Foundation, which provides opportunities for students to serve through community service programs, off-campus fellowships and internships and leadership development programs.

"Great things happen when people think big, and she does," commented Cassell. "I had no doubt that Natalie could get people motivated to organize and cheer on the summer games by leveraging the winter games as a model."

The Upper Valley has hosted Special Olympics winter games since 2003, when the Dartmouth Alumni Club of the Upper Valley (DCUV) undertook the task of starting and managing the event. Pete Bleyler '61, Upper Valley Special Olympics Regional Director, also encouraged Babij to organize the summer games. "The students got enthusiastic about the program," he said. "They have been great - I marveled at their jumping in and taking these jobs, most of which they had never done before."

Babij, with the help of Assistant Games Director Emily Luscz '08, assembled a core management committee of 15 students. "Dartmouth students have been involved in Special Olympics for many years, mainly through weekly bowling trips with Special Olympics athletes and more recently, through assembling a large contingent of volunteers for the 2005 Regional Upper Valley Winter Games," she said.

The students have channeled their enthusiasm into action with guidance from their alumni counterparts. Bleyler connected each student with a DCUV mentor who had fulfilled the same role while managing the winter games.

Babij expects 200-250 athletes on game day. Running an event that large requires the help a lot of volunteers - about 200 of them, according to Volunteer Coordinator Cindy Powder '05. Powder and the management committee have been recruiting volunteers from Dartmouth and the surrounding communities by contacting winter games volunteers, canvassing the campus and putting Dartmouth's Blitzmail culture to work with an email campaign.

Powder is pleased with the response and estimates that about half of the volunteers will be Dartmouth students. "Understanding the impact we will have on the athletes' lives is one of the most positive feelings a person can have," she commented.

For Babij, "The most rewarding aspect will be seeing the games come together, seeing the smiles on the athletes' faces and knowing that the work we put into organizing this event resulted in brightening someone's day."

Opening Ceremonies will be held at 10:30 a.m. at Lebanon High School.  Track & field events will be held at the high school, while the swimming events will take place at the Carter Community Building Association -Witherell Center, also in Lebanon. Those interested in volunteering may contact Powder.

"We really encourage people to come out and support the event," added Babij, who pointed out that, "Sometimes the best volunteers are those who stand and cheer while athletes cross the finish line."

By SARAH BENELLI

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08