Special Olympics partnership focuses on fitness and tolerance
By Hugh Fisher
For the Salisbury Post
SALISBURY - For teachers and volunteers with Partners in Learning and Special Olympics, it's never too early to teach both healthy habits and tolerance.
Saturday, the Special Olympics Young Athletes program joined Partners in Learning and volunteers from local organizations for a morning of games, healthy food and family fun.
Norma Honeycutt, executive director of Partners in Learning, said the event was a success.
This year, the child development center has put a strong emphasis on health and wellness. Saturday's event was a chance to share that message with the community.
"Part of our mission is to address early childhood obesity," Honeycutt said.
Habits formed early in life carry through to adulthood, she said, so Partners in Learning has taken steps to form good ones.
Starting this year, Honeycutt said, there are no sweets allowed in classrooms. Fruits, veggies and cheese have replaced cupcakes at birthday parties.
At Saturday's fall-themed event, 5-year-old Alyssa Swing's plastic jack-o-lantern held not candy, but blueberries, grapes and an apple.
"She's already eaten the carrot and the blackberries," said her mom, Charlene Swing.
Honeycutt said there had been "very little" opposition to the new policy. The biggest complaint, she said, came when the plastic eggs at Easter didn't have candy inside.
The kids didn't mind at all. The pencils and other prizes they got instead were enough to make them happy.
"We've had lots of activities to help parents focus on this," Honeycutt said.
For her part, Swing praised the healthy treats. "They'll get enough junk food at Halloween," she said.
Outside on one of Catawba College's neighboring athletic fields, a variety of games and physical activities had been set up.
The Special Olympics Young Athletes program, which includes both children with disabilities and typical children, has been involved with Partners in Learning and area schools through Project Unify.
Vice President for Field Services A'Lisa Tello said Special Olympics' goal is to help increase tolerance and build friendships.
"If you put children with disabilities with typical children, they (the disabled children) tend to advance more quickly, to make bigger strides," Tello said.
But although children with disabilities are already included in classrooms, she said, they may not be a part of the social life of their schools.
Project Unify has partnerships with East Rowan High and West Rowan High, in addition to Partners in Learning, she said.
And local school students were among the volunteers helping kids and families with games and activities.
"It's important because we're getting to see the children have fun," said Sara Holmes, a West Rowan High student who helped at the event, along with about 20 other Junior Civitans.
Around the kids, volunteers helped kids throw and catch, navigate an obstacle course and balance on a trampoline.
Holmes said she hopes the kids without disabilities get to see that all kids are basically the same.
"It would be a lot easier if we all helped each other out," Holmes said.
Bobbie and Brad Hayes of Rockwell came with their boys, Paul, 2, and Bradley, 3, who is autistic.
"It's been good, we got to spend some family time together," Bobbie Hayes said.
And, she said, "we get to spend some time with kids who have the same abilities as ours."
For another parent, Israa Aguenaou, coming to the event with her children Sarah and Ranim was important for an additional reason.
Sarah, three-and-a-half years old, will start school soon, Israa said.
"It's very important for her to socialize, to spend time with other kids," she said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor's desk at 704-797-4244.