Guest Editor: Sherrie McGregor, MSW
I defined myself as a typical “burned out” social worker. After working as a medical social worker for over 25 years, I believed that my career was over, finished, and fried! I left my job and was sitting at home trying to decide how to reinvent myself.
I started reflecting on my career and what I enjoyed doing the most. What came to mind was working with intellectually developmentally delayed (IDD) clients in a sheltered workshop setting back in 1979. Of all the jobs I have held, this was one of the most rewarding and fun. As the social worker for a sheltered workshop of over 100 clients, I always felt it was important to look at each client as not only an employee of the workshop, but also as an entire person that needed a balanced lifestyle which included exercise and fun along with an 8 to 5 job. Special Olympics was the answer! We became involved with the organization and I soon found myself coaching track and field among other sports after work hours.
Little did I know that my past experience with this population was to become an important part of my future! I started researching on-line volunteer opportunities and that’s where I found Karlyn Emile who invited me to share my expertise with the Healthy Community Special Olympics. It combined my medical social work background along with my past experience serving the developmentally delayed population.
In 1979, Special Olympics participation requirements were to produce proof that the athlete was developmentally delayed. Once this was established, the athlete was good to go. Fast forward to today and I am amazed how Special Olympics has evolved and is now advocating for the entire developmentally delayed population. Health Community is an amazing adjunct to the Special Olympics organization. Screenings to make certain that those who will participate in Special Olympics are medically stable and healthy are necessary and enhance quality of life for the entire IDD population.
The health screenings that take place for eyes, ears, teeth, and feet with referrals to doctors that have experience treating this type of patient are needed and essential. The Wellness and Nutrition program helps to educate the special population about making better nutritional choices on a daily basis as well as demonstrating the importance of daily exercise. This learning experience can help change eating habits that enhance overall health and help develop healthy athletes.
Students participating in their college field placements by teaching and assisting in the nutrition and wellness classes are gaining valuable experience working with the IDD population and will carry the experience with them the rest of their lives. This adds to the list of community doctors, nurses, nutritionists, social workers, public health administrators, and other professionals that will make themselves available to treat and teach this population without fear and hesitation while practicing their chosen professions in their communities.
I am proud to be a part of this organization and am thankful for people like Karlyn, Dominque, Charnelle, and the ever changing team of volunteers, who give so much of themselves to this worthy, yet underserved population. Healthy Community Special Olympics is a program that deserves to become a staple for the developmentally delayed adult population nationwide. Not only does this program assist in enhancing quality of life, but it also exposes more and more of the general population to the joys of interacting and servicing the IDD population.
Special Olympics Florida-Health Programs: