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Special Olympics Holds Lessons, and Inspiration, for All of Us

Jun 24, 2014, 2:30 AM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

 

Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

—Special Olympics motto

The other day I cheered myself hoarse during a swim relay for a team from Maryland that put their all into the race. In fact, the whole viewing crowd cheered on this team. When they finished, the athletes were jubilant, hugging each other and their opponents, thrilled by their performance in this national event. It didn’t seem to bother them much that they finished last.

The 2014 USA Games for the Special Olympics, the world’s largest organization for people with intellectual disabilities, was held in New Jersey June 14-21. Some 3,500 children and adults from all 50 states competed in 16 different sports, and the vast majority took tremendous pleasure in the pure joy of athletics. Sure, plenty were fiercely competitive, but they were also happy and proud to have the opportunity to compete to the best of their ability.

That was pretty inspirational to the 110 staff members from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who volunteered at the Special Olympics.

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Putting the Great in Grateful

Dec 9, 2013, 11:31 AM, Posted by Joan Barlow

Mercer Street Friends Food Bank Warehouse Trenton Photo courtesy of Mercer Street Friends

We all have the ability to do something great, even if it’s in the smallest gesture.

I love Thanksgiving because it’s “four days, no presents.” There is no need to get caught up in the grind of competitive decorating, shopping ‘til you drop, or agonizing over finding the right gift for that special person. It’s food, family, fun—and, of course, gratitude. After all, you can’t say Thanksgiving without the thanks.

I was lucky to learn at an early age how fortunate I’ve been and I try  to express my gratitude as much as possible. To be healthy, surrounded by family is a true blessing, even when coupled with difficult times. In recent years, I’ve been especially thankful for the opportunity to work at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). My extended family at work is made up of warm, caring people who are passionate about our mission to ensure that all Americans have an opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives—those same opportunities that I’ve been afforded.

In addition to the Foundation’s national efforts, RWJF makes a special effort in its home state of New Jersey. So last week, several colleagues and I volunteered at Mercer Street Friends Food Bank in Trenton—the largest source of government- and privately-donated food in Mercer County. The Food Bank channels 3 million pounds of food annually to the various food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.

During our day there, we sifted and sorted, checked expiration dates on donated foods, and, because of the time of year, loaded up bags of Thanksgiving fixings for distribution for many of the 25,000 people at risk for hunger in Mercer County. These are families who go without what many of us often take for granted. It was interesting to me that the cellphones never appeared; there wasn’t that tug to keep checking email or follow Twitter feeds. It wasn’t spoken, but I think we all realized that what we were doing was too important, and deserved all our respect and attention. Even though our effort was small—after all, it was only one day—in someone else’s eyes it might be seen as something great.

As we worked, it brought to light for many of us the sheer volume of food needed, as well as what it takes to put together healthy offerings and supplies for the working poor, children in low-income households, the elderly, disabled, and homeless. I also reflected that, while Thanksgiving is a day when we do recognize what others do without, we don’t often remember that these families live in poverty and need our help—not just around Thanksgiving—but all year long. And not having basic everyday necessities, like nutritious food, can severely impact the health of families, particularly children.

So maybe Thanksgiving shouldn’t come only once a year. After all, aren’t we thankful for the things we have every day? The power of gratitude should be recognized as a challenge to be great—even in the smallest of efforts. Maybe that’s the magic about it.

I was proud—no, I was grateful—to work at Mercer Street Friends, and I will do it again. So as we enter the holiday season, count your blessings each and every day and let gratitude drive you to greatness.

Joan Barlow is the Foundation's Creative Services Manager.