The following feature comes to Special Olympics Wisconsin from Jenni Oeftger, Alicia Langlois, and Annabelle Hodges of Neenah Public Schools who represented Team Wisconsin at the Youth Leadership Experience coinciding with the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando.
The Youth Leadership Experience (YLE) was an absolutely amazing experience that was hosted by Special Olympics North America (SONA) and the Youth Ambassadors at the USA Games in Orlando, Fla. Our team from Wisconsin consisted of athlete Alicia Langlois, unified peer Anabelle Hodges, and Special Education teacher & Unified Champion Schools liaison Jenni Oeftger, all from Neenah Public Schools. We got to participate in a variety of activities including volunteering for a Young Athletes fair at a YMCA in Orlando, job shadowing the amazing Sean Whitley from Special Olympics Nebraska, telling stories of different athletes and happenings at the USA games, and participating in the Unified Sports experience at the Fan Zone at the ESPN Wide World of Sports.
From Jenni Oeftger: My favorite part of the rotation was the job shadow. I enjoyed getting to chat and network with Sean about future opportunities for youth leadership in Wisconsin. We also made some amazing friendships with other YLE trios. We spent a lot of time with Virginia and South Carolina and made lifelong friendships. It was amazing to be part of something bigger than ourselves for the purpose of the ultimate mission of inclusion. I also loved the opportunities that led up to the games including Hill Days and speaking at the send-off. I also enjoyed getting to know all of our Team Wisconsin coaches and athletes. We had an amazing team and it was fun to cheer them on and encourage them at the games. It was an experience of a lifetime and I am so grateful to represent Team Wisconsin in this capacity.
From Alicia Langlois: When I went to YLE, I was excited and nervous. I did not know anyone’s name. I met new friends including Tatum and Aaron from Virginia and I was happy. They were like family when I met them. I tried new food and went on rides I did not like, but I pushed myself to try new things with my new friends. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and was so happy when I did something I never thought I could do. YLE is very important to me because I got to help with little kids and do fun stuff at the Young Athletes Festival. I got to watch different sports and cheer for them.
From Anabelle Hodges: Alicia and I were YLE ambassadors for Team Wisconsin and gained a lot of hands-on experience on how to make not only the state, but our community more unified. The Special Olympics [USA Games] left me in awe at the sportsmanship demonstrated even while not playing. I don’t think I will ever have the chance to be surrounded by as many inspiring people at once, especially my friends on the Team Wisconsin Bocce team! Alongside the Special Olympics initiative, I hope to break down stereotypes because no one realizes there is more to educate yourself on until you are given the chance. As Scott Hamilton eloquently contends, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” We were fortunate to meet a majority of the other YLE trios (especially our buddies from Virginia) and learn from like-minded people. We attended Hill Days meeting with officials such as Dean Kaufert, Ron Johnson, Tammy Baldwin, Glenn Grothman and we advocated for funding for Unified Champion Schools. Through voicing our experiences and our stories, we gained support from every representative we met. I also want to thank our teacher Mrs. Oeftger. Her work, passion and dedication were the reason we were invited to YLE. Without her, Neenah would not have the welcoming atmosphere every school aspires to achieve.
Youth Athlete Leaders are integral to creating inclusive communities. To learn more about how you can promote inclusion in your school and community, check out our Unified Champion Schools pages or reach out to Director of Unified Programs, Princess Brinkley.