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Youth Today are the Leaders Tomorrow

Trish Lutz is the Area Services Director for SOMO. You can reach her at

How many times have you heard the statement, “Youth today are the leaders tomorrow”?  How many times have you really thought about the impact that young people have on our world?  Do you think back to when you were young (or younger) and what you did to make a difference, be the change or step up and lead?  Here are a few examples of the young people I have been blessed to work with in my 17 years on staff who are stepping up as leaders to be the change and make a difference.

Brandon is a high school student in a small community in Southwest Missouri.  One day as he was walking through the hall he noticed a girl he had gone to school with since kindergarten, we’ll call her Lucy.  Lucy has an intellectual disability.  Brandon noticed that everyone always said hi to Lucy in the hallways and people were never mean to her, but what bothered him was no one really TALKED to Lucy.  No one invited her to sit with them at lunch or go to the football game on Friday night.  He began to wonder how he could be the change and make a difference in Lucy’s life.  He did research and found out that Special Olympics offers Partners Clubs ®.  Partners Clubs® bring together high school students with Special Olympics athletes in a setting to provide sports skills training and competition on a regular basis. Partners Clubs® members may spend additional time together enjoying other social and recreational activities in the school and community.  Brandon made a proposal to his school and started his own Partners Club.  His goal is to make sure Lucy and other individuals with intellectual disabilities are included in activities at his school, including sitting together at lunch or going to the football game on Friday nights.

When I first met Elizabeth, she was about four years old and would tag along with her mom to Special Olympics events and meetings.  Her mom is a Special Olympics coach and always involved Elizabeth with her team. When Elizabeth turned eight, she became a Unified Partner in bowling and basketball.  As she got into her teenage years, Elizabeth started to get busy with interscholastic sports (she is an amazing softball player) and had to cut back on her Unified Sports.  She now helps coach the teams and plans to become a head coach as soon as she turns 18.  In the meantime, Elizabeth serves on the SOMO Youth Activation Committee.  She is one of the first official members.  Through her leadership on SOMO YAC she, along with her friend and Special Olympics athlete, Jared, started the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign at their high school when she was just a freshman.  Elizabeth continues to be the change by taking a stand against the r-word.    She is making a difference in her school and community as a leader to promote unity and respect for all.

Julie began her Special Olympics career in high school serving on the planning committee for an event they held at her school in a suburb of St. Louis.  Julie spent her summers babysitting for a family with two children with autism.  She fell in love with working with individuals with intellectual disabilities and decided to major in Special Education in college.  When applying to colleges, one of her prerequisites was that she could still remain involved with Special Olympics.  Upon her acceptance to Truman State University she immediately contacted the local organization on campus that planned and organized the Northeast Area Spring Games.  By the time she was a junior, she was the chair of the planning committee and remained the chair for two years.  She also helped coach the local program.  It was during this time that she received the statewide Outstanding Volunteer award, one of the youngest recipients ever!

Julie is now a Special Education teacher in the Kansas City Metro area.  She coaches Special Olympics in her school district and attended the 2010 National Games as a track coach.  Julie’s passion for her students and athletes is immeasurable.  Many of her former athletes in Kirksville are her friends and they come and visit her in Kansas City often.  In fact, Max was even an usher at her wedding! 

Julie and her husband are expecting their first child in January.  I am betting that little Austin will be volunteering for Special Olympics shortly after his arrival!  I’m pretty positive youth leadership is hereditary!

SOMO Youth Activation Committee (YAC)
There are about 30 young people ages 11 to 21 who serve on the SOMO YAC.  They are athletes and partners that work together to lead their schools and communities to be the change and make a difference.  They are promoting an inclusive school environment where everyone is accepted and respected.  They are true examples of acceptance, respect and friendship.  The friendships they have developed across the state will last a lifetime.  They ARE leaders, they are SOMO leaders. 

Patricia began her involvement with Special Olympics when she was 14 years old (that was 28 years ago – I’ll let you do the math!).  She helped coach Special Olympics athletes in aquatics.  When she was in high school, it was different.  Individuals with intellectual disabilities were in a classroom down the hall.  You never saw them at lunch and they certainly weren’t nominated for homecoming queen or king.  It wasn’t “cool” to volunteer for Special Olympics.  Now, you aren’t cool if you don’t volunteer!  Patricia didn’t really have the opportunities youth do today to get as involved, but when she graduated from college she got a job with the greatest organization ever – SPECIAL OLYMPICS MISSOURI (if you haven’t guessed – Patricia is me – Trish Lutz, Area Services Director).

So as adults, are you ready for our youth today to be the leaders of tomorrow?  If so, then guide them in the right direction and give them a voice to be the change.