Special Olympics: The Power of Volunteer Service

As I was leaving campus Friday, I passed athletes, families and coaches getting ready for the big Special Olympics Fall Festival. Police motorcycles were lined up for the opening ceremonies.  This moving and heartwarming scene brought me back to 1989 and a high-school gym in South Philly, when as a 20-year undergrad, I refereed a Special Olympics basketball tournament as part of a campus-based community-service organization.    

There was a celebrity game, so I got to meet some local television and radio personalities which was cool. I even caught a coach trying to sneak an extra player onto the court.  Seriously?  I am not sure he really understood the purpose of Special Olympics.  

I had no idea at the time how significant that day would prove to be.  After that, the Special Olympics newsletter began appearing in my dormitory mailbox, and I volunteered to coach a Special Olympics weightlifting program near campus.  That summer, I worked at camp for children with special needs.  

Other people noticed that I was good at working with kids, so as graduation approached, I began to think about how I could turn this into a career.  My first job out of college was working in the psychiatric unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which led to a decade-long career in social services.  After college, I continued to coach with Special Olympics and volunteered at a Villanova-sponsored event here on campus.  

This past weekend the torch was passed to the next generation as my high-school aged daughter (and future Wildcat) volunteered at the Fall Festival.  

One of the many wonderful aspects of Villanova is the multitude of opportunities to volunteer.  So give it a try, you might meet a few minor celebrities, catch someone cheating or better yet stumble upon a career!