For many years, I have served Chairman of the Department of Youth and Parish Ministries, which includes overseeing Teen SOYO, an organization of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America that aims to teach teens how to live a spiritually fulfilling life with God. One of our biggest commitments is to show teens how to serve others in the name of Jesus Christ. In the late 1970s, Teen SOYO formed a partnership with the Pennsylvania Special Olympics, through the good work Dr. Anthony Bashir’s relationship to Eunice Kennedy Shriver (the founder of the Special Olympics). Today, I would like to highlight some facts about this partnership, as well as the work our teens have done, all in the name of Christ and the Church.
In 1979, teen leaders in our Youth Movement felt a strong urge to reach out and support the community. The teens themselves recommended providing a week of camp to the Special Olympic Athletes of the state of Pennsylvania. Through the desire of the teens to serve and gift this opportunity to the Special Olympic Athletes and the good work of Dr. Basir and the openness of the Shriver family a relationship that has last all these years was born, and we quickly established the partnership that has lasted nearly 40 years.
The SOYO youth movement, along with leaders of Special Olympics, decided we would host a week-long training camp that would cater to participants of the various events. Our teens would provide all of the financial costs of the one week camp, and most importantly, our teens would serve as counselors and other staff members, collaborating with the camp staff already in place. Although our teens were all eager to begin this camp, we had to wait until 1980 to officially begin hosting.
Throughout the years, we have worked hard and overcame struggles with hosting. There were times where our fundraising efforts (necessary for the camp to continue) were not producing the results we needed. At first, our church planned to fundraise as Teen SOYO without mention of Special Olympics. However, after we made our partnership clear, we quickly began to raise enough money to operate. For Special Olympics Awareness Day, our teens created a video asking for help, which was shared with several parishes. Our organized efforts worked much better than they had before.
This past summer, Teen SOYO hosted its 36th Special Olympics training camp, and in October we held our 37th Special Olympics Awareness Day. Every year, we are blessed to have a group of volunteers who eagerly anticipate to reaching out to others and sharing the love of Christ through their acts. We look forward to continuing this tradition this year, and for many years to come.
Please check out https://teensoyo.org/special-olympics/ for more information.