Special Olympics Project UNIFY® is an education-based project that uses sports and education programs to activate young people to develop school communities where all youth are agents of change – fostering respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities.
Special Olympics Project UNIFY is an education-based project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, that uses the sports and education programs of Special Olympics to activate young people across the U.S in order 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 that through sports young people can make a difference in friendships, schools and communities. Project UNIFY began its fourth year of activities in the fall of 2011.
Project UNIFY initiatives include a host of core activities, both on the national and the grass-roots level. Local projects that meet Project UNIFY objectives are supported through a funding process for U.S. Special Olympics Programs. Special Olympics is working with 38 U.S. State Programs conducting Project UNIFY that engage approximately 600,000 young people in over 1,700 schools.
Special Olympics Project UNIFY incorporates sports and related activities, however, in this new way of operating (youth-centered, school focused) there is an enhancement in current programs and paradigms from a focus on events to committing to a movement advocating for youth as change agents now and in the future.
In the almost 43 years since Special Olympics was founded, much progress has been made, yet there is much yet to be done; we still face the challenge of creating a society that fosters respect, dignity and advocacy for all; we struggle to be viewed as a movement relevant to all of “us” and not only an event for “them”; and educators often narrow-cast Special Olympics as sports only, and not a valuable education program that can enhance school climate and advance schools’ educational agendas.
We have strong and irrefutable evidence that Special Olympics sports and related programs provide platforms for youth to understand and value their peers with intellectual disabilities, and empower and activate youth to create opportunities for and with them in sport, friendship and advocacy.
Therefore, Special Olympics Project UNIFY is much more than a re-naming of existing school-based programs; it is rather an innovative response to unequivocal research that shows that Special Olympics local programming can contribute to eradicating the social and environmental walls to inclusion that our athletes and those with intellectual disabilities continue to face.
Special Olympics Project UNIFY Key Characteristics
Project UNIFY is committed to ensuring that the following characteristics of effective practice are in place and consistently achieved in initiative schools.
- Youth Leadership
- School/Community Collaborations
- Continuous Improvement
- Professional Development
- Unifying Programming
- Creating and Sustaining Relationships