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Finding a home

Ashley Dawson is Special Olympics Missouri’s Social Media Coordinator and has been on staff for four years. She can be reached at

When you work for Special Olympics, you are often asked how you got involved with the organization. Well, my story goes a little something like this.

Five years ago, I had just moved to Columbia. I was in a new state, and at a new school, and I knew no one. This was WAY outside my comfort zone. I had just spent three years at the University of Nebraska. Back in Nebraska, I had friends and a fiance; in Columbia I was slowly making a few friends and living on my own for the first time. Even though I had only dabbled in volunteering in college, I felt the need to fill my evenings with some type of organization and the City of Columbia website had a listing for Special Olympics basketball practice helpers. I knew basketball! I could help coach or do drills or anything they asked. So I went, and while I don’t remember what I expected exactly, or if I even knew who Special Olympics served as a population, I remember only feeling a bit uncertain that I wouldn’t find the right person to tell them I was there to volunteer. I felt a bit like I didn’t belong, in the way most people do when everyone else seems to know what is going on, except you.

That feeling didn’t last long. I quickly got assigned to a team. I helped each Monday night at a women’s five-on-five practice. It was just an hour, but these girls were so great. I loved hearing them chat about their day, about the crush they have or how hard work was that day. These girls were a range of about 16-40, but mostly just young adult women. Before I knew it, I was coaching my very own three-on-three team. Those memories are so fond to me. The excitement of making a basket in a game, the silliness of make-believe animals during practice, and the caring friendship they offered me and each other. I wanted to be a constant, positive force in their lives, and they certainly were for me.

From volunteer, to coach, to intern, to employee – Special Olympics has offered me a family I didn’t know I was looking for, a place to grow in character, and friendships that endure. Special Olympics has given me a true home away from home.