Allie Stryker 2013-09-10 18:31:50
Mission Inclusion LCIF Expands Partnership with Special Olympics Officially diagnosed with an intellectual disability at the age of 16, Ben Haack found it tough going in school and in sports. That changed when he joined Special Olympics Australia to play cricket and soccer. “Before Special Olympics I didn’t have any meaning in my life and really didn’t have a life. I went through a lot of bullying and mistreatment in both school and mainstream sports … Then I found Special Olympics and through Special Olympics I found a life. Special Olympics has given me and my family hope, support, respect and meaning,” explained Haack in a speech in July at the 96th International Convention in Hamburg. Past International President Wing-Kun Tam announced in Hamburg the expansion of Opening Eyes, Lions Clubs International’s partnership with Special Olympics. Former NBA star Yao Ming, a Special Olympics board member; Timothy Shriver, Special Olympics chairman and CEO; and Haack shared testimonies and inspirational stories. Haack, a longtime Special Olympics participant and a leader for Special Olympics Australia, has witnessed firsthand the contributions of Lions clubs in Australia toward the health and inclusion of athletes. “Lions Clubs have done so much and continue to do so much for Special Olympics athletes across the world ... thank you!” said Haack. “I have seen Lions Clubs help my fellow athletes, giving them eyeglasses and a chance to develop as an athlete and a person. I have seen them have fun together. That is the most important thing.” Since 2001, Special Olympics and LCI have screened more than 325,000 Special Olympics athletes, and have provided more than 100,000 athletes with high quality prescription eyeglasses with the help of global suppliers Essilor International and Safilo Group. “I think it is almost impossible for words to capture what the gift of vision is to [the athletes]. For so much of their lives, they are told not just that it might not be important for them to see, but it just isn’t important for them to be,” said Shriver. “We have never had a more significant partnership in the history of the Special Olympics movement than the one we share today with Lions Clubs International.” The partnership expansion includes creating leadership opportunities for Special Olympics athletes, increasing the health work of Special Olympics, conducting outreach to families for additional support and allowing for both organizations to reach more young people through inclusive sports and advocacy programs. The goal is full acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. “Lions already joined the Opening Eyes project, helping Special Olympic athletes receive proper vision care. We are excited to do even more health programs, sports programs and family activities, and together, we can even make them better,” said Yao. This expansion is also designed to highlight LCI’s global and community leadership. “Thank you Lions Clubs for your continued support, but more importantly for your belief in people like me,” said Haack. “Your support will allow us to reach more young people and empower our athletes to be leaders. These actions will help build understanding and break down barriers and bullying and will create communities of acceptance everywhere.”
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