John and Amanda pour their hearts into the program, working 15 hours a week, in addition to their regular full-time jobs with Anderson Center for Autism. They’re part of a growing team of nearly a dozen coaches and other specialists who train, inspire – and are inspired by – the extraordinary athletes among the Anderson community.
The community is working overtime this week, preparing to host the center’s first-ever official Special Olympics event Nov. 17 – a daylong volleyball individual skills competition beginning at 10 a.m. at the Anderson Education Center gym, 4885 Route 9 in Staatsburg, N.Y.
Anderson Center for Autism has branded its goal of LifeLong Learning into every aspect of its structure and teaching model. It comes as no surprise the same practice has been integrated into its Special Olympics program, whose athletes range in age from 11 to 47.
“At Anderson, one never stops learning, no matter what your age,” John says. “It is a fit for life education – something that the athletes will carry with them everywhere.”
The Anderson athletes have inspired their community with their growth, confidence and joy – and even their competition!
Yet any time the Anderson team arrives at a competitive event, others notice the great sense of pride and camaraderie among teammates. With their matching zip-up jumpsuits and calm, appreciative demeanor, they are almost celebrities catching the eye of everyone in the room.
For someone living with autism, it is impressive enough to be part of a team, developing physical fitness, demonstrating courage, experiencing joy and sharing gifts, skills and friendship with their teammates. But it is certainly something else for others to witness leadership and encouragement exuding from these athletes who struggle daily just to communicate functionally. When you see these individuals compete together, it’s like they have no disabilities at all.
“It’s watching an athlete kick it into overdrive at the last 10 meters, when you know they feel tired and it would be easier to give up and accept a second place medal,” Amanda says. “It’s watching an athlete cross the finish line with a smile on their face to meet teammates who are jumping up and down cheering, and proud coaches who more than likely just ran down the sidelines cheering the entire way.
“It’s watching the athletes breaking down barriers, overriding the pre-existing stereotypes of living with a physical or mental disability, and silencing anyone who ever had any doubt about their capabilities,”
The Special Olympics program at Anderson has been so successful that staff members literally line up for coaching and volunteer positions. Coordinator for Children’s Services Kwame Wiafeakenten was so impressed with the gifted adult athletes that he and Jarmar Richardson resurrected a children’s team 4 years ago with the goal of rebuilding it into the robust Special Olympics program it once was. Kwame and Jarmar have since joined forces with John and Amanda, forming one cohesive Anderson Athletics program. To date there are 12 specific sport coaches, 4 head coaches and an impressive total of 85 athletes – along with a slew of inspired spectators and helping hands – making them one of the largest programs in New York state.
Kwame is also a witness to the powerful force the program has become within the Anderson community. Though the child athletes are at a much earlier stage in their learning than the adults, Kwame has been happily surprised to see them maintaining and building on skills from year to year and putting them to practice with each new season.
He can see it on their faces – even if they are unable to express it verbally – that they truly enjoy being part of a team and they love the power of sport.
“They are so proud to walk up to that podium and receive a medal,” Kwame says. “They feel successful and proud when they accomplish something like this.”
Concerning the Polar Plunge “freezin’ for a reason” Special Olympics New York fundraiser he and his team regularly participate in, Kwame says: “This program is my favorite part of my job. It is the only reason I would ever jump into a freezing cold lake in the middle of the winter! It’s all for them.”
For many years now, the Anderson Athletics team has been a fervent presence at each sporting event. Whether at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point or any of the other generous hosting venues, Anderson athletes have always had an open stage where they can perform.
This is why Anderson Center for Autism is proud to host the Special Olympics volleyball individual skills competition at 10 a.m. Nov. 17. With all of the help of neighboring communities, Anderson is excited to be able to give back and set its own stage for the talented and extraordinary athletes who will undoubtedly continue to inspire and amaze us all.
For more information contact:
Ashworth Creative, Public Relations
About Anderson Center for Autism
Anderson Center for Autism is New York’s premier autism treatment and care center. It is a non-profit organization located in picturesque Staatsburg, N.Y., dedicated to providing the highest quality programs possible for both children and adults with autism and related developmental disabilities. It employs more than 700 specialists who are expertly trained to diagnose, treat, and care for adults and children on the autism spectrum.
Special Olympics New York program
Special Olympics New York is a private, non-profit organization that held the first State Summer Games in Rochester in June 1970. The organization -- funded primarily by individual, corporate and foundation donations -- is the largest state Special Olympics program in the United States and the sixth largest program in the world, serving nearly 56,000 athletes. Special Olympics New York’s mission is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.