Church Volunteers at Special Olympics
Contributed By Lucy Schouten, Church News contributor
“[All the members who helped] felt what a blessing it was to be a part of it—a lot of work but worth it.” —Pam Williams, public affairs director for the Bakersfield stake
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Abby Eyre, a recently returned missionary to the West Indies, was using her mission language as she had never expected. She was a volunteer interpreter and assistant to the Special Olympics delegation from Haiti, and they were about to forfeit their first soccer match in the Los Angeles 2015 Special Olympics World Games for lack of equipment.
Concerned spectators provided the Haiti delegation with soccer cleats, and one coach became interested in Sister Eyre’s missionary experience. He asked to attend a Church service, and she gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon.
Sister Eyre realized the two weeks she spent with the Haiti delegation—one of 177 Special Olympics delegations—was no less a part of her Latter-day Saint service than the formal missionary work she had finished in May.
“I feel like service is the epitome of member missionary work now, and I never realized that before,” said Sister Eyre of the Orange Hills YSA Ward, Irvine California Stake.
Latter-day Saints volunteered for the Los Angeles 2015 Special Olympics World Games, serving people with disabilities on an unprecedented scale July 21–August. 3.
Alyssa White of the Mission Ridge Ward, Wenatchee Washington Stake, used the Arabic she learned at BYU during her 24/7, two-week volunteer assignment with the Jordan delegation.
She assisted the 22 Jordanian coaches, athletes, and Special Olympics leaders everywhere they went, including for a three-day “host town” experience in Bakersfield, California.
Delegations from Jordan and Kenya saw the best sights of Bakersfield, where five of their seven meals were provided by Bakersfield wards and the farewell party occurred in the stake center. The mayor of Bakersfield welcomed the delegations, and Bakersfield’s three main news channels filmed as youth from the stake donned cowboy hats and boots to teach Western line dances and then the delegations shared dances from their native African and Arab cultures.
Assistant head of delegation Jamal Alnammoura receives farewell gifts as the Jordan delegation leaves Bakersfield, California, during the Los Angeles 2015 Special Olympics World Games. Photo by Lucy Schouten.
Lenaya Berry, the public affairs director for the Bakersfield East Stake, organized two groups from each ward in her stake to travel to Los Angeles as “fans in the stands” spectators at the competitions. Young single adult wards in particular were called from around California to help support the athletes.
Caleb Blaschke of the Bakersfield 5th Ward, Bakersfield California Stake, helped organize food, security forces, and entertainment for the delegations as both a Church member and through a position with the city. Brother Blaschke said although the Church was not formally a sponsor of the world games, what the Bakersfield stakes were doing for Special Olympics was being replicated in over 100 host towns all over Southern California.
“If you added all of that (the cost of meals and volunteer hours) together, the Church would not be far behind these other sponsors that actually got recognized,” Brother Blaschke said.
Athletes from the Kenya Special Olympics delegation are hosted at a sit-down breakfast provided by an LDS ward in the White Oak Ward building in the Bakersfield California Stake. Photo by Lucy Schouten.
Pam Williams, the public affairs director for the Bakersfield stake, began helping as a co-chair of the committee in Bakersfield. She and Brother Blaschke used leadership skills learned in Church service to help fellow committee members during the almost weekly meetings that began two months before the teams arrived.
“[All the members who helped] felt what a blessing it was to be a part of it,” Sister Williams said. “A lot of work but worth it.”
Leadership from the Jordan Special Olympics delegation, public affairs directors from Bakersfield, and a volunteer delegation liaison enjoy a Western-style farewell dinner at the Bakersfield California Stake center. From left: Jamal Alnammoura, Ali Alshawahin, Anthony Frehner, Angela Frehner, Lenaya Berry, Alyssa White. Photo by Lucy Schouten.
When Sister White returned with the Jordan delegation to Los Angeles for the Special Olympics opening ceremony and the competition itself, her opportunity to share her testimony through action was not over.
She was cheering for Jordanian athletes in a roller-skating event when a Qatar coach asked how Mormons are different from other Christians. In Arabic, Sister White described the first events of the Restoration, and, at his request, she showed him her copy of the Book of Mormon in Arabic.
“I actually really love teaching the gospel in Arabic because I don’t know a lot, so I have to keep it really simple, which I think is the best,” Sister White said.
Members of the Jordan and Kenya Special Olympics delegations learn to line dance at a farewell dinner at a stake center in Bakersfield, California. The dinner was held in conjunction with the Los Angeles 2015 Special Olympics World Games. Photo by Lucy Schouten.
The coaches from Qatar and Jordan were also interested in her standards of modesty, abstention from alcohol, the importance of family, and high morals, which resembled their standards in many ways.
“Something that happened without me trying, which is really neat, is just the way I live my life is really different from [many] other stereotypes about Americans,” Sister White said.
Mohamed Ali, a coach from the Jordan delegation and practicing Muslim, told Sister White he had felt a special spirit in the Church building, as though he had come home.
Leaders of the Jordan Special Olympics delegation present a gift to Sylvia Treanor, at left, and Pam Williams, right, of the Bakersfield host town committee for the Los Angeles 2015 Special Olympics World Games. Photo by Lucy Schouten.
Tiffany Quinlan and Heidi Pinkston wait to receive uniforms to volunteer as delegation liaisons for Russia and Georgia for two weeks. Both learned Russian while serving LDS missions. Photo by Lucy Schouten.
From left, Robin Schaffer, Rawand Ali, and Manal Alshaer say good-bye as the Jordan delegation leaves Bakersfield, California. Sister Schaffer volunteered to help host the Jordan delegations along with other members from the Bakersfield stakes. Photo by Lucy Schouten.