By: Kendall Webber
They stare at the soccer ball as it rolls towards the goal and they hold their breath. All attention turns towards the ball as the goalie stands his ground, protecting his goal. He reaches for the ball but it slips through his fingers. The ball slams against the net and all the kids crowd together in a huge group, hugging to celebrate their victory. Being a person with disabilities doesn’t stop these talented youngsters from grabbing the gold.
Project Unify is a club for special education students (referred to as “Peers”), ranging from elementary to high school students. They are able to take part in sports, learn communication skills, and get an opportunity to make friends and have fun with each other.
“Project Unify it’s a community of people who enjoy helping others. The people we help are our peers. We provide them with extracurriculars like sports.” Korben Hager (11) said.
Project Unify participates in all kinds of sports including basketball, swimming, track, etc. Due to COVID-19, some sports were postponed for the year including bowling, basketball, etc. COVID-19 also affected traveling to competitions and participation in the Special Olympics.
“COVID restricted the number of people that could be in the pools at a time,” said Ian McMahan (11). “We could at most have 18 people in the pool at once and it also affected how many people we could have at soccer practice.”
During COVID, the Peers ended up feeling lonely and missed being with one another. In order to fix this problem, the helpers formed a plan and made a pen-pal system. The pen-pal system helped the Peers keep their heads up and stay in contact with others so they were not entirely isolated during the period of quarantine. This enabled the Peers to make sure everyone was okay, and not feeling cut off from the world. The system was successful but is no longer needed due to the majority of athletes returning to school.
The most frequent question the helpers get asked is, ‘What is that?’, and ‘Why did you join that?’ Project Unify is a club to help teach Peers how to play sports, but it also helps everyone learn communication skills, get out of their shells, and how to celebrate even if they lose.
“Joining Project Unify helped me [improve my] communication skills and brought out all the good things that you never hear about in these types of clubs,” Hager said.
“I joined project unify because I was already involved in the community because I would volunteer at the little lighthouse so I just like doing that kind of work,” Hannah Smith (12) said. “So I figured it would be a good idea to do stuff inside of that community.”
She went on to explain how Project Unify has inspired her to discover what she wants to do as a career.
“Project Unify helped me decide what I want to do as a job helped me realize what I wanted to do in my life. I want to be a speech pathologist for special needs kids when I’m older,” said Smith.
Project Unify isn’t just a club, it’s a community that helps everyone feel like they have a place they can turn to. It has created an atmosphere that highlights the often-overlooked moments that no one sees and made bonds that will last a lifetime.