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Inspiration and impact at the Special Olympics Michigan State Summer Games

Event engages CMU faculty, staff, students and alumni 

Contact: Heather Smith

​​​​​​​For more than 40 years, Special Olympics Michigan​ has been a part of the Central Michigan University family.  CMU's campus is home to its state headquarters, and its largest event, the State Summer Games, takes place annually on campus.

The 2015 State Summer Games, which will bring nearly 6,000 people to Mount Pleasant May 28 through 30, will engage hundreds of CMU faculty, staff, students, student-athletes and alumni as volunteers, as the event does each year.

Read about the impact some of these volunteers have had on Special Olympics Michigan athletes and how they have been impacted and inspired through their involvement, and feel the excitement with coverage from this year's games.

A friendly competition between Central Michigan University academic departments and friends and the Finance and Administrative Services division raised more than $29,000 for Special Olympics Michigan.

With a 12 percent increase from last year, the money raised will sponsor 486 athletes in this year’s State Summer Games. A total of 2,641 athletes will participate.

“Sponsoring an athlete is $60, but that pays for athlete housing, travel and all of their meals. They don’t pay for anything – it’s all provided,” Heidi Alexander, administrative assistant for Special Olympics Michigan said. “We never charge any of the athletes or their families for participation in the games.”

FAS won the competition, raising more than $15,000, which surpassed its opponents by about $2,400. While competition was fierce, both sides were focused on benefiting the athletes.

“We won, which really is secondary,” Barrie Wilkes, vice president of FAS said. “It’s all about raising money for Special Olympics and sponsoring athletes.”

The State Summer Games will begin Thursday, May 28, with the opening ceremony in Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The games will take place May 29 and 30 at various campus locations.

Academic and friends division: : CBA, CCFA, CEHS, CHP, CHSBS, Library, Global Campus, Provost’s Office, CST, CMED, Grad Studies, Diversity, President’s Office, General Counsel, University Communications, Athletics, IAC and Enrollment and Student Services.

Finance and Administrative Services division: Financial Services, Residences and Auxiliary Services, Facilities Management, Financial Planning and Budgets, Police/Parking, Human Resources and Special Olympics Michigan’s state headquarters.

Huron High School senior Tiana Coles will volunteer for the second time with Special Olympics Michigan – an experience that has defined her future career path.

As an incoming Central Michigan University freshman, Coles’ exposure to this field has led to her decision to study special education.

“I first visited CMU last year at the State Summer Games, and all weekend my teacher, Dana Cesarz, was talking about her time at CMU,” Coles said. “From there, I looked more into the school and the programs they offer, and I fell in love.”

Aside from preparing for college, the organization has provided Coles with an in-depth understanding of her chosen profession and given her a new outlook on life.

“Working with Special Olympics Michigan is an extremely humbling experience,” she said. “You will never meet a more grateful or encouraging group of athletes.”

As an elementary education and special education major, Special Olympics Michigan played a large role in Dana Cesarz’s undergraduate experience at Central Michigan University. Little did she know the impact it would have in her own classroom after she graduated in 2011.

“One of my peers at CMU encouraged me to volunteer, and once I went, I never looked back,” Cesarz said.

Cesarz began volunteering at Special Olympics Michigan as a student in 2008. Now, as a special education teacher at Huron High School in Ann Arbor, she continues her work with the organization – getting students involved as both athletes and volunteers.

“Several Huron High School students have seen what I do and are pursuing special education degrees and want to get involved,” she said. “It’s giving them real-world experiences they can apply.”

Cesarz works as a Project Unify school advisor, coordinating her school’s support of Special Olympics Michigan. She also helps coach athletes.

For Cesarz, volunteering with Special Olympics Michigan has become something she truly enjoys. The impact it has on her students is what drives her motivation.

“I keep coming back for my students because I see how much it benefits them and how happy it makes them,” she said. “I’ve seen an increase in confidence in my athletes. It makes them feel more included.”

Cesarz said Special Olympics Michigan helps her school’s athletes feel a sense of belonging with their peers and highlights the importance of acceptance. Bringing her students to CMU helps teach these lessons – while making Cesarz feel closer to her university.

“It’s important for people to accept others and to see how ridiculous it is to judge people on their cognitive ability,” Cesarz said. “I’m proud of the fact that my alma mater is so committed to Special Olympics Michigan.”

Athletic training major Austin Herman is returning for the second year as a volunteer at the Special Olympics Michigan State Summer Games.

“I’m looking forward to being more involved in the medical staff this year because I now have a better knowledge of general medical conditions and a greater self-confidence in my skills,” he said. “Because of this I think I can be a greater asset to the medical staff at SOMI.”

In his first year of volunteering, Herman, a senior from Union City, worked with a range of highly trained medical professionals who helped him learn and grow.

“I will take away the honing of skills in athletic training and sports medicine,” he said. “The medical staff comprises people from a number of medical professions and it’s great to talk with people of other professions because you learn things you may have not otherwise known.”

Although Herman initially began volunteering to change the lives of the athletes, he said his experiences at SOMI have had an incredible impact on his own life.

“The unconditional love and support the athletes both give and receive is something unlike any other,” he said. “I truly believe that by assisting, I can make myself a better person.”

Herman said the support system at SOMI allows everyone the opportunity to participate and volunteer in their own unique way.

“The biggest piece of advice I would give to a first-time volunteer is to not be afraid of the skills you have or lack,” he said. “Be comfortable in yourself and don't worry, everyone had to be new once.”


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