Friday, October 24, 2008

Special Olympics Georgia Launches Project UNIFY Initiative to Energize Youth

PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Special Olympics Georgia (SOGA) received $60,000 in funding to support the overall outreach initiative of the organization as part of Special Olympics' new national program, Project UNIFY.

Project UNIFY is a year-long project to activate young people across the country in an effort to promote school communities where all young people are agents of change -- fostering respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics believes through sports young people can make a difference in friendships, schools and communities.

Project UNIFY promotes a cultural shift and positions Special Olympics as a leading cause among youth -- as important, not just "nice," and as relevant to each of us, not just for "them." In addition, Project UNIFY leadership activities will help develop the next generation of leaders and advocates for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

"This project is an excellent opportunity for our Programs to get directly involved in a grass-roots effort to increase the number of Special Olympics opportunities for youth with and without intellectual disabilities, while increasing the number of state-wide sustained Special Olympics partnerships with schools," said Bob Gobrecht, Special Olympics North America Managing Director. "The need for programs like the ones Special Olympics offers that encourage positive school climates with safe and nurturing environments for all students is clear, especially in light of how inappropriate and discriminatory words and actions are becoming more and more common in our society."

Special Olympics Programs throughout the United States were invited to apply for funds to implement Project UNIFY activities that meet the initiative's objectives through a competitive grant process. Special Olympics Georgia will use their funding to support the Young Athletes, Get Into It, Unified and Traditional sports programs.

All of these initiatives will attract children and adults with intellectual disabilities into the Special Olympics program. "Our goal is to make all eligible individuals aware of the many year-round ways to get involved in our sports training and competition programs throughout the state," said SOGA CEO Georgia Milton-Sheats.

Project UNIFY was made possible by $4.4 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Education pursuant to fiscal 2008 appropriations under the authority of HR5131, "The Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act," and the "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act" which Special Olympics International received in June 2008.

To kick off Project UNIFY, 17 young people from across the country, aged 14-20, with and without intellectual disabilities, assembled in Washington, D.C., on 18-20 September for the first meeting of Project UNIFY's Youth Advisory Committee (YAC). The committee met during the Department of Education's 2008 Global Summit on Education, the theme of which was "Inclusive Practices for Students with Disabilities."

In addition to forming the Youth Advisory Committee, other overall Project UNIFY goals include promoting the Special Olympics "R-word" campaign, implementing a U.S. Special Olympics grant process for local Special Olympics Programs, hosting a Global Youth Congress as part of the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games, and participating in national forums and conferences on intellectual disabilities and education.

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