Princeton, N.J.—The 2014 Special Olympics USA Games kick off in New Jersey this week, and employees of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) are greeting them with enthusiasm and action. The 2014 USA Games’ emphasis on good health, fitness, and fun resonates with Foundation staff members, who are poised to launch a new long-term national initiative for building a Culture of Health.
As a Bronze Partner, RWJF is sponsoring the Healthy Young Athletes program with a contribution of $100,000. For the first time this year, children who are too young to compete in the official games will still be able to participate. The Young Athletes Festival provides opportunities for children with intellectual disabilities and their peers ages 2-7 to engage in sports and other fun physical activities that can help them develop critical early cognitive, social, and motor skills and be introduced to the world of sports. The Healthy Young Athletes program provides an additional benefit—a team of health and health care professionals that observe the children as they play and offer parents information about key areas of health and functioning that can affect their children's psychological, cognitive, and physical development. If required, referrals can be made to area specialists.
RWJF is also sponsoring the New Jersey Special Olympics baseball team with a $15,000 grant, enabling local athletes to compete in one of this year’s new events. Equally significant is the commitment from nearly 50 percent of the RWJF staff to volunteer at the Games. By supporting the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey during the same month that their new national initiative is announced in Colorado, RWJF employees have found a way to show personally and professionally how they will partner with communities, policymakers, and businesses to help build a Culture of Health for everyone in America.
Champions for Health
This new RWJF vision is exemplified by the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, showcasing a vibrant, inclusive view of health that flourishes across all geographic, demographic, and social sectors in the United States. A Culture of Health champions a society where, among other things, high-quality health care is available to everyone and medical providers team up with their patients not just to fight illness, but also to promote wellness.
A recent worldwide Special Olympics Blog post provides a great example of people working together to build a Culture of Health. A group of physicians in Tennessee write prescriptions for patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities, not for medicine, but to engage in the Special Olympics. A recreational therapist then helps the patients and their families discover the best Special Olympic sport to meet each individual’s interests, experience, and skills.
RWJF was founded and is still headquartered in New Jersey, making the nation’s largest foundation committed to health and health care a natural sponsor for the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games located in the Garden State.
Entire departments will leave their desks to volunteer together at certain events, while other colleagues will divide up among local athletic venues. Some will be getting splashed midweek as athlete escorts at the Princeton University pool, while others will head for the softball fields to help warm up the players at Mercer County Park.
The Young Athletes Festival will also draw numerous RWJF employee volunteers from multiple departments. New this year, the Festival activities are designed to introduce the world of sports to children with intellectual disabilities who are still too young (ages 2–7) to compete in the Games, and to show that critical early childhood development can be achieved through the power of play.