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SOMO delegation advocates for continued support and funding on Capitol Hill Day

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WASHINGTON D.C. – From Feb. 5-6, six delegates from Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) attended Special Olympics’ annual “Capitol Hill Day” in Washington, D.C. to spread the good news of their life-changing programs for those with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics athletes from across the country led more than 200 face-to-face meetings with members of Congress in both the House and Senate.

Missouri’s delegation:

  • Development Director, Christina McDonough Hunt | from Kansas City
  • Athlete, Daxton Miller | from St. Louis
  • Athlete, Jennifer Neihouse | from Kansas City  
  • Longtime Coach, Supporter and SOMO parent, Dianna Neihouse | from Kansas City
  • Unified Champion Schools Manager, Ben Johnson | from St. Louis
  • Multimedia & Athlete Leadership Manager, Kayla Hull | from Jefferson City

Special Olympics Missouri coach Dianna Neihouse blogged about her experience during Capitol Hill Day.

When Kayla first ask if Jennifer and I would like to attend Capital Day 2024 and represent SOMO, my first thought was, “Me? Really?”. Anyone that knows me knows I don’t have much of a filter, I take very little seriously, and I believe if it isn’t fun it’s not worth doing. But who was I kidding, she wanted Jennifer, not really me. So I said, sure we would love to represent!

Who doesn’t love starting a day at 3:00AM for a 5:50AM flight? Well, me actually, but we made it! At the airport we met Christina, and yes Christina, you do have to empty your water bottle to get through security. KC side was on our way to Washington DC! We met the other half of our group, Kayla, Daxton and Ben, at the DC airport and we were ready for our adventure. Time to call an Uber, well we needed two of those.

Our fearless leader Kayla gets us all checked in to the hotel and with SOI, gets us all the swag, and we were dressed for success. We met a few old friends in the lobby, said our hellos, took some pics, then it was off to lunch before the work begins.

Our breakout meetings were a lot of fun. Jennifer and Daxton got to practice their speeches with other athletes, learn about meeting etiquette, shake some nerves off, get a better understanding of why we were there and what we were asking, and meet a movie star. We also learned we think the same things are funny and love to giggle together!

Meetings are done, we are prepared for a day on The Hill, time for bed! No wait, time for dinner and to take a night monument tour! Ok, so our timeline didn’t actually work out how we planned, but we are the #CapitalHillKids, we adapt, we persevere, we power through…we call another Uber!

To see our Nations Monuments during the day is amazing, to see them lit up at night is breathtaking, well at least that’s what Kayla, Christina, and Daxton told us, Jennifer, Ben and I chose to stay in the nice warm bus and look out window at them, and nap! We had stops at The White House, The Capital, The WWII Memorial (where we got to see The Marine One Helicopter come in for a landing, pretty cool), The MLK Memorial, The Marine Memorial, The Vietnam Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, and The Korean War Memorial. Not in that order and I hope I didn’t miss any, like I said, I was trying to nap. Thanks for arranging a great tour Kayla! Back to the hotel, time for bed, it’s 11:00PM.

Tuesday morning, time for big leagues, to do what we came here for. Asking Congress to continue its support of Special Olympics Unified Champions Schools and Health and Wellness programs. How do you do that? You bring in people with a passion, you have the individuals that truly have stories to tell Not just our Missouri delegation, but athletes, coaches and staff from throughout the country. You have them sit down, look at staffers and on occasion the Senators and Representatives in the eye and say “Special Olympics changed my life, please support it”. Jennifer and Daxton rocked that mission.

We had seven meetings in the offices from Missouri, I believe we had an impact on every one. Congresswoman Ann Wagner, Congressman Mark Alford, Congressman Eric Burlison, Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, Congressman Jason Smith, Senator Josh Hawley and Senator Eric Schmitt. Daxton’s easy smile and contagious enthusiasm was just a joy to watch. How many people do you know that can charm a Representative so much that you walk out with a signed pair of boxing gloves literally off the office wall? Shout out to Rep Luetkemeyer for that amazing moment. In contrast, Jennifers quiet resilience, and her ability to convey that “this program is such a big part of my life”, and of course her face lighting up when a Senator rushes up the stairs to make sure he says hello, shout out to Senator Hawley. Jennifer and Daxton made an awesome team. Ben’s passion for the UCS program and his ability to just speak freely and to let everyone in the room see how he cares for it, was fun to watch. Christina and Kayla’s knowledge of what our mission was, handling the logistics and the heavy lifting of actually throwing out numbers, we couldn’t have done it without you! And of course our SOI appointed staff Madyline Boyd for navigating our schedule, the hallways, the tunnels, answering our many random questions. Even getting us in the super-secret Congress and staff only tunnel under the Capital. Very cool. And you never know who you are going to run into down there. Ben got to “Feel the Bern” and shake hands with Senator Bernie Sanders. And me, well I love playing the role of wingman. I hope I spoke for all SOMO coaches to say that we are here, we love what we do, we see the impact Special Olympics has on our athletes, and we are not going away. We love our athletes, and we have their backs.

The staff we met in all the offices were so welcoming, and so good with our athletes. They were willing to give us all the time we needed to tell our stories. I hope every state had the same experience, but The Show Me State showed their heart. We say a big thank you to them all.

Ok, seven meetings, seven hours, kind of a long, great day. Here is what I took from this. If we are worried about future generations of individuals with intellectual disabilities getting the same opportunities as this generation has had, don’t be. If we can continue to bring them into SOMO for their love of sport, give them good quality programs to participate in, lead them to a road of health and wellness, and teach them to advocate for themselves like I saw so many athletes do, we are in good hands. They will fight for their opportunities. Our athletes never cease to amaze me. And just when I think they cant teach me anything new…..they do.

Back to the airport, on a shoestring of time of course, headed for home. #CapitalHillKids left their mark on DC, and on each other. And no Christina, you STILL can’t take that water bottle through security!