LDS Church becomes involved with Special Olympics 2015

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A Special Olympics delegation from Egypt celebrates the opportunity to participate in the Special Olympics Summer World Games.
A Special Olympics delegation from Egypt celebrates the opportunity to participate in the Special Olympics Summer World Games. (LDS Public Affairs)

BYU students are being recruited for a unique service project requiring language skills, as LDS Public Affairs is helping with an international Special Olympics this summer.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is helping to recruit volunteers for everything from hosting teams to filling the stands with fans. Stakes from San Luis Obispo to San Diego in southern California are being asked to fill the many positions needed in the event. LDS Public Affairs has turned to BYU to help fill a need for delegation liaisons, who are live-in translators assigned each country’s delegations.

Volunteers must be between 20 and 60 years old, speak English and the language of the delegation, understand the delegation’s culture and accompany the delegation from July 20 to August 4, according to Julie Shen, of LDS Public Affairs, the delegation liaison coordinator.

Although volunteers will need to dedicate about two weeks of their summer, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for BYU students who may be home for the summer and have more flexible schedules compared to the normal school year, Shen said.

Shen said the event has a “pressing need” for Arabic speakers, as well as 50 other languages.

BYU Middle Eastern studies Professor James Toronto said this event will benefit volunteers in two ways: service and language learning.

“Having to accomplish tasks and problem-solve pushes you beyond your comfort level and causes your brain to have to push itself to express concepts in ways that you don’t sitting in a classroom,” he said.

Toronto said such learning, like a mission, gives meaning to sometimes abstract language learning in classrooms.

“Using something you’ve labored so hard to learn to actually make a difference is very satisfying,” Toronto said.

A delegation assembles for a past international Special Olympics event. The Special Olympics Summer World Games 2015 will be held in Los Angeles, and the LDS Church is  involved in organizing volunteers for the event. (LDS Public Affairs)
A delegation assembles for a past international Special Olympics event. The Special Olympics Summer World Games 2015 will be held in Los Angeles, and the LDS Church is involved in organizing volunteers for the event. (LDS Public Affairs)

The Special Olympics Summer World Games 2015 will be held in Los Angeles. The event will mark 41 years since the Special Olympics Qorld Games last made an appearance in LA. The last time the U.S. hosted the Special Olympics World Summer Games was in 1999 North Carolina, according to Dustin Plunkett, Games associate and board member.

The games will be the biggest world event this year, with more than 7,000 participating athletes from 170 countries. In order to effectively host the event, the Olympics committee will need more than 30,000 volunteers.

Megan Burns, a junior majoring in exercise science, found her opportunity working with the Special Olympics to be just that. Burns volunteered as a peer coach during the Junior Special Olympics in North Carolina back in 2006. Although the event was held at a local level, Burns had the chance to work with athletes with mental disabilities and had a rewarding experience.

“The most rewarding thing for me was seeing how happy the kids were before, during and after their races,” Burns said. “The kids were just absolutely beaming. It didn’t matter whether they got first, last or somewhere in between; they were just happy to be there.”

Members from local stakes are being organized under the leadership of five Area Seventy. According to a release from LDS Public Affairs in Southern California, “The Relief Society or Elders Quorum, with the support of the YSA leadership, are encouraged to form teams made up of their youth and their peers from school or sports teams. We ask the youth leadership to make this event a service portion of their youth conferences this year.”

The event will run July 25–Aug 2. Those interesetd in volunteering can visit http://www.la2015.org/volunteer and specify “LDS” in the drop box asking about recruitment.

“It’s not an opportunity everyone gets to have, but it is one of my favorite memories,” Burns said. “I really got to know and love the kids I was working with, and that’s what made it so special.”

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