A couple weeks ago the University of New Mexico’s men’s basketball team, led by newly hired Coach Paul Weir, hosted a clinic at the Pit for a group of our local Special Olympics athletes. As the Special Olympics athletes took the floor, I was invited by Coach Weir to meet with his players and coaches to give them an idea of what to expect. He wasn’t sure that any of them had ever spent any time with a Special Olympics athlete, and I wasn’t sure he had, so to his credit, Coach was thoughtful enough to ensure everyone was going to have the best experience possible.
We met in the film room. I talked – they listened – and then everyone took the floor. In a matter of minutes, the game of basketball did what the game of basketball always does – it brought everyone together. Athletes with athletes regardless of ability share a common bond when there’s a ball and a hoop.
It was a great clinic and at the end, we gave each Lobo a sharpie to sign our athletes’ Lobo t-shirts they had received that night. A few minutes went by and Coach Weir wandered over to me with a smile on his face. A bit surprised he said “He asked me if I wanted his autograph.” And there it was, on his beautiful Lobo Basketball Nike polo – the signature of one of our Special Olympics athletes.
I love it that our athletes, just like the Lobos, are “stars” in their own minds. I love it that Coach Paul Weir now has his own Special Olympics moment to remember – with a smile and an autograph that will last as long as the shirt does.
Special Olympics New Mexico’s contract with the Department of Health was eliminated a couple months ago, and the absence of that $310,000 has left our organization in a sizable state of need. Being in “need” is not a comfortable place to reside, especially when the need if not filled has the potential to impact so many people who rely on us. I think and pray about our situation and the challenge we face – a lot. My thoughts around what we face are evolving, and this is where they are today.
There is unforeseeable value in having to face tough times. We don’t learn about endurance, perseverance, and true hope if we are never placed in situations that require them.
As we go through the process of reevaluating what we are now able to do and what things we no longer can, we realize the gift of what we had. We are humbled at the thought of having taken those things for granted.
We are experiencing “connection” with people in a different way, as well as the possibilities that come with them. What people are doing and how they want to help is beyond what any of us could have dreamed of on our own. New relationships and old relationships bring to the “need” a greater purpose. It is those relationships that bring a whole new depth of gratitude for people who are on our team.
Our 2017 State Summer Games last weekend were pretty wonderful, if I do say so myself. As is the case with every State Summer Games, I leave in awe of the Special Olympics athletes that compete, as well as extremely grateful for the many volunteers who do everything within their power to make sure the athletes have a great experience. Every once in a while, it works out that I am able to spend some time with the athletes who are there and this year , I was blessed to spend a few memorable minutes with Kenny Rodriguez. His words have stayed with me.
Kenny has very little sight, but he doesn’t let that stand in his way of competing. His coach calls him an “overcomer.” What a great way to describe someone. I was walking with Kenny to the volleyball venue on Sunday morning and casually asked him if he had competed in track the day before. His response was “Yes I did. It was the best day of my life.” My immediate thought was he must have won a gold medal, but his next few words changed my thinking. “It was the best day of my life because while I was doing my race-walk, I heard my name over the loud speaker.”
To me, hearing your name over the loud speaker is like having a race number pinned to your back. It tells everyone you are a competitor. It’s validating, and to Kenny – it was not only meaningful but memorable.
Moments like this for guys like Kenny inspire us to continue to do the work we do. It’s just the best.
Special Olympics New Mexico’s 2017 State Summer Games theme is “Everything Is Awesome.” It is the title of the song that was written for The Lego Movie. I haven’t seen the movie, but having Lego addicts in my family – for years, I have spent my fair share on Legos of all kinds and given them as gifts.
The first few stanzas of the “Everything is Awesome” Lego song fits Special Olympics and our State Summer Games perfectly. In case you haven’t heard it …
“Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you’re part of a team.
Everything is awesome when you’re living our dream.
Everything is better when we stick together.
Side by side, you and I are gonna win – forever.
We’re the same. I’m like you – you’re like me – we’re all working in harmony.”
Those words will take human form May 19th – 21st. If you aren’t already planning to attend the Games – consider yourself personally invited. I feel safe in saying you won’t be sorry you did.
A few weeks ago I wrote thank you cards to a group of individuals whose company collectively and individually through their clients made a nice contribution to Special Olympics New Mexico. In those cards I quoted three of the “Beatitudes for Friends of People with Disabilities.” For those of you who haven’t heard of the Beatitudes, in their original form they can be found in the Gospel of Matthew where there are eight different blessings that are written with two phrases – a condition and a result.
There are different versions of “Beatitudes for Friends of People with Disabilities” but I found these three to be the most relevant in my life right now. I have spent time not only giving thought to these, but giving thought to my falling short of the results.
“Blessed are those who see past the disability of my mind and body – to see the shape of my soul.”
“Blessed are those who love me just as I am without wondering what I might have been like.”
“Blessed are those who believe God put me here to bring out the best in others.”
Seeing the shape of someone’s soul, loving someone just as they are, and believing that every person was put on this earth with a purpose in mind serves as a good self evaluation tool that speaks not only of who we are now, but how we will be remembered once we’re gone.
A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of presenting a Unified Champion School banner to Vista Middle School in Las Cruces. This school is the only middle school in our country right now to have earned one of these banners. That would put New Mexico #1 on a list of something to celebrate. Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho is one of 41 High Schools to hang a banner. If you aren’t familiar with the Unified Champion School concept – the banner represents having demonstrated a commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 standards of excellence, which were developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community. The long and short of it is – these schools do more than “say” they are inclusive – students with and without disabilities play sports together, develop student leadership together, and involve the entire school creating an inclusive culture.
The day I presented the banner Vista Middle School was hosting a four-school unified basketball tournament. The gymnasium was packed -there were cheerleaders everywhere- trophies were displayed for all to see- and the students were hugging, laughing, and seemingly happy to be there and not in class.
Having taught mid-school for four years of my life, I felt pretty comfortable, and as I wandered around the gym, I noticed everyone else seemed comfortable. It was inclusion – not something wildly special or a one time deal. It was special education students hanging out with regular education students- playing basketball together – messing around together – creating drama together. Key word here? Together.
Hats off to the leadership of schools who create real opportunities to learn and be together. Hats off to the students of this generation who are willing to take the time to figure each other out. Hats off to anyone who sees and believes THIS IS THE WAY IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE.
Sometimes in life no matter how complicated things may seem, it all boils down to “if” and “then.” Right now there’s a big “if” that warrants our immediate response. New Mexico – if House Bill 412 is passed and signed into law – then our state’s nonprofit organizations are going to have far less dollars to serve those who need our help.
The House Bill 412 is designed to reform and simplify Gross Receipts Tax. It has passed in the House unanimously and is gaining momentum. If it does pass 1) nonprofits will lose their exemption from state Gross Receipts Tax – 2) nonprofits will have to pay Gross Receipts Tax on the “receipts” from fundraising events. Two events will be exempt, any more than two will be subject to tax – and 3) nonprofits performing services for the state will have to pay Sales Tax on the contracts.
To quote a very dear and wise friend of mine “Nonprofits are under assault.” We are stretched to the max and having to pay a Sales Tax will stretch us even more. Paying taxes on the very fundraising events that help us do the important work we do is bogus. And, paying a Sales Tax on the contracts we have with the state to do what we all do to serve the most vulnerable New Mexicans – REALLY?? Government can not provide the quality of service to people that nonprofits provide, and Special Olympics New Mexico can not endure potentially paying over $70,000 in taxes.
This is a call to action. We have until Friday – this bill is being rushed through. Contact your Senator and House Representative to let them know how House Bill 412 will hurt our nonprofits and our communities. If you aren’t sure who to call – go the NM Legislature website and check Find My Legislator. Call them – email them – tell them HB 412 Section 95 and Section 107 need to be amended.