On the morning of May 22, dozens of SOWI athletes, coaches, volunteers, board members and staff came together (via Zoom) in the first-ever virtual Unified Leadership Conference to show that “no matter the distance,” Unified Leadership is as strong as ever in the Special Olympics Wisconsin community.
The program included sessions on the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force and how Unified Leadership intersects with this new initiative. The unified sessions featured presentations from athlete leaders Cindy Bentley, Marquis Garner, Edward Kastern, Megan Galarowicz and David Thompson.
The conference also included a session on transitioning programs, which discussed how athletes can transition from Young Athletes to traditional programming and how his transition can help communities gain more athletes, coaches, Unified partners and volunteers.
Similarly, the senior athletes session introduced the Senior Athletes Task Force and their ongoing work to make sure that Special Olympics Wisconsin is as relevant and fulfilling for senior athletes as younger ones.
Later in the program, Dr. Michael Weber joined the conference for a timely presentation on dealing with negativity and learning how to increase your own positive approach toward other people in everyday challenges.
After Dr. Weber, SOWI staff discussed how unified leadership and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives could help lighten the workload for the local program managers.
The program concluded with recognition of years of service for volunteers, a memorial video celebrating the life of people in the SOWI community who passed away in the last two years, and awards.
The Operations Award went to Scott Nyholm, who helped a great deal during the pandemic as the owner of the building where the Region 8 office is located.
The Mike Schulte Athlete Leadership Award was awarded to Cole Cleworth of Wisconsin Rapids for his active role as a coach, his participation in athlete leadership, and his energy as a motivated, fun, creative and supportive SOWI athlete leader.
The Unified Champion School of the Year Award was given to Neenah High School, for consistently going above and beyond in their efforts to make their school and community as inclusive as possible. For this reason, Neenah High School was also one of just 36 Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools from across the country that was on the 2020 ESPN Honor Roll for Unified Champion Schools.
Organization of the Year went to longtime community partner Community First Credit Union for their role in supporting athletes as partners and participants in events like the Polar Plunge.
Lastly, the Special Service Award went to Bill Semmens of Janesville, who has been a SOWI track coach and official for nearly 40 years. The Special Service Award is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a SOWI volunteer and winners have demonstrated a long-standing commitment in many roles or at many levels of the organization.
The awards were the perfect way to conclude the program, as they showed the true power of unified leadership in Special Olympics Wisconsin. Check out the conference below!