Mailman Center Collaborates with Special Olympics on Youth Leadership Summit (FL UCEDD/LEND)

June 18, 2018

The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine's Mailman Center for Child Development collaborated with Special Olympics in a youth leadership summit, which took place June 3 at UM's Donna E. Shalala Student Center.

The purpose of the summit was to highlight the Unified Champion Schools program, which incorporates Special Olympics' sports, leadership and related activities that empower youth to be change agents in their communities.

Daniel Armstrong, Ph.D., director of the Mailman Center and executive vice chair of the Department of Pediatrics, was present for the welcoming remarks.

"The relationships with both Special Olympics and the school system are critical parts of the ‘connection' part of our value statement," he said, "and this event and the things to follow definitely hit on ‘impact and innovation.'"

Since 1968, Special Olympics, by promoting inclusion through sports, has changed the lives of its young athletes and challenged the attitudes faced by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Its Unified Sports program provides an opportunity for people with and without intellectual disabilities to play on the same team and develop leadership skills. Through its Unified Champions program, student leaders learn to identify issues and acquire the tools needed to create change.

The athletes from the Unified Champions teams were paired with two facilitators from the Mailman Center's leadership team, who volunteered to lead small breakout groups. The collaborative program focused on leadership skills to promote inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities, while also furthering the Mailman Center's vision to improve lives through innovation, impact, and connection.

The Mailman Center provided an introduction to leadership/advocacy skills and problem-solving strategies, based on its success with three innovative and nationally recognized leadership programs related to developmental disabilities for professionals, interdisciplinary trainees, and self-advocates: Project Self-Advocate Leadership Program (SALT), Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND), and Emerging Transformational Leadership Program (ETLP).

"I loved seeing leadership and inclusion in action in these high school students," said Shelly Baer, LCSW, director of leadership training initiatives at Mailman Center. "They came up with issues in their schools, ranging from bullying and judgmental attitudes to having more Special Olympics competitions in Monroe County. They also came up with action steps to create solutions. There were approximately 50 teens in the room, and their energy was palpable and inspiring."

The summit also served as the launch for the Mailman Center's newest program in the leadership pipeline - Students Emerging Leaders Program (SELP) - for high school students with and without disabilities. The first SELP cohort will formally begin in September and run for about a year.

The University of Miami Special Olympics College Club assisted with planning the event.