It all began in the 1950s and early 1960s, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw how unjustly and unfairly people with intellectual disabilities were treated. She also saw that many children with intellectual disabilities didn’t even have a place to play. She decided to take action.
Soon, her vision began to take shape, as she held a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. The goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and other activities – and not dwell on what they could not do.
Throughout the 1960s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver continued her pioneering work — both as the driving force behind President John F. Kennedy’s White House panel on people with intellectual disabilities and as the director of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. Her vision and drive for justice eventually grew into the Special Olympics movement.
In 1968, Mrs. Shriver organized the first International Special Olympics Games at Soldier Field in Chicago, in the belief that the lessons these athletes learned through sports would translate into new competence and success in school, in the workplace, and in the community. Above all, Mrs. Shriver wanted the families and neighbors of people with intellectual disabilities to see what these individuals could accomplish, to take pride in their efforts, and to rejoice in their victories.
Today, Special Olympics Inc. is the world’s largest provider of fitness training, education and athletic competition — coupled with social, life, and leadership skill development opportunities — for children and adults with intellectual disabilities or a similar developmental disability. Special Olympics Florida, an accredited program of Special Olympics Inc., was founded in 1972 and is one of the largest volunteer-driven athletic organizations in the state.
Special Olympics is a worldwide movement where one can act locally, but make a global impact. With over 108,000 competitions around the world, with training taking place every day, with family leaders, athlete leaders and volunteers extending our message every day, Special Olympics is no longer just an event. We are a movement, inviting the world not just to attend Games but to think, feel, and act differently about everything. Join us — you will be helping to create a world of acceptance and inclusion for all!
The mission of Special Olympics Florida is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for people with intellectual disabilities who wish to participate, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.
The ultimate objective of Special Olympics Florida is to help people with intellectual disabilities participate as productive and respected members of society at large, by offering them a fair opportunity to develop and demonstrate their skills and talents through sports training and competition, and by increasing the public’s awareness of their capabilities and needs.
Special Olympics Florida, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
Special Olympics Florida serves over 38,000 athletes and offers training and competition in a variety of team and individual sports. These athletes are trained by 2,700 volunteer coaches, and are supported and encouraged by more than 25,000 event volunteers statewide.
Special Olympics athletes are given opportunities to participate without regard to economic, demographic, religious, or social factors. Neither athletes nor parents are charged a fee to participate in the program, and activities exist for those of all ability levels, from the highly functioning to the severely challenged. Anyone can participate in Special Olympics if they meet the eligibility criteria of having intellectual disabilities or a similar developmental disability.
Intellectual disability does not discriminate. Athletes who participate in Special Olympics come in all ages, ethnicities, and economic and social backgrounds. However, a significant number of athletes live in urban areas and come from lower socioeconomic groups. In addition, the vast majority of school-aged children with intellectual disabilities who attend public schools receive free or reduced lunch, placing them in the at-risk demographic.
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