Special Olympics Kansas this week is celebrating the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Global Day of Inclusion with a party and open house at its Mission offices. The festivities take place Friday, July 19 for Special Olympics athletes and families as well as leaders of inclusion in the local community.
Taylor Obersteadt, Unified Sports and Program Operations Coordinator of Special Olympics Kansas, said the organization’s goal for the event is to bring together its athletes and leaders of inclusion for a day of fellowship “to celebrate, recharge and go back out to fight for inclusion.”
“We’re just really hoping that this day brings together the community as a time to celebrate inclusion but also fill each other up and get excited to go back out and keep pushing inclusivity,” Obersteadt said, “whether it be for those with disabilities, the minority groups, whatever it may be that is underserved, we want them to come and celebrate with us and just get filled up so we can continue to do what we do.”
The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a cake cutting at 1 p.m. at Special Olympics Kansas, 5280 Foxridge Drive in Mission.
Nonprofits and companies such as Fashion Honors Autism, Black Excellence KC, MadeMobb, Disabled but Not Really, Ruby Jean’s Juicery and The Whole Person will be joining in the festivities with hand paintings, hot dogs and the cake cutting.
This is the first year Special Olympics Kansas has celebrated Eunice Kennedy Shriver Global Day of Inclusion, said Heather Waters, senior vice president of communications of Special Olympics Kansas.
“We just had our 50th Summer Games, and so we’re really trying to just go into the next 50 years focusing on inclusion and where we’ve come from and where we want to go,” Water said, “and this is just a natural fit.”
Eunice Kennedy Shriver Global Day of Inclusion was created to honor and celebrate the work Shriver did in 1962 to create what started as a camp in her backyard for athletes with disabilities, Obersteadt said. The organization is now known today as Special Olympics and serves more than 4.7 million people with intellectual disabilities in 170 countries. Of those athletes in Special Olympics, 4,300 are in Kansas.
“As a whole, Special Olympics North America is celebrating the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day of Inclusion; this is just our way of localizing it and doing something to remember Eunice Kennedy Shriver and to fulfill her mission of an inclusive society,” Waters added.
As part of the effort to boost inclusivity, Special Olympics is also pushing this year for schools in the United States to become Unified Champion Schools, Obersteadt added. This initiative utilizes “whole school” engagement, sports teams and student leadership to encourage schools to become more inclusive and unified among all students, regardless of ability.
“That’s one thing that has really grown in especially the Johnson County area,” Obersteadt said. “We actually have all of the Shawnee Mission high schools that are Unified Champion Schools. Actually, just this summer, we onboarded Shawnee Mission South and Shawnee Mission North, which completed having the entire district be Unified Champion Schools, so that was a huge win for us and a really big moment for Shawnee Mission. We’re really excited about it, and I know the schools are really excited about it.”