SOURCE: Special Olympics International

September 18, 2008 11:27 ET

Special Olympics Received $4.4 Million in Funding From U.S Department of Education to Support Youth Initiatives

Project UNIFY, Promoting Youth as Agents of Change, Kicks Off in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwire - September 18, 2008) - Today, Special Olympics launched Project UNIFY, a new youth initiative which engages young people throughout the United States to serve as agents of change and advocates of respect in their schools. This initiative was made possible by $4.4 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Education pursuant to fiscal 2008 appropriations under the authority of HR5131, "The Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act" and the "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act."

Project UNIFY is a year-long U.S. national project activating young people across the country to promote school communities where all youth are agents of change -- fostering respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities through a program of education, motivation and activation.

"We envision this project as the proving ground and catalyst for a shift in our culture that positions Special Olympics as a movement, not just a series of events and as important, not just 'nice,'" said Timothy Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics. "It is our desire to become a leading cause among youth, and to develop the next generation of Special Olympics leaders."

"The Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act," which was signed into law in 2004, authorized $15 million in funding per year over five years for the growth of Special Olympics Programs in communities across the United States and around the world, including expansion of sports programs, Healthy Athletes® screening services and education initiatives, like Project UNIFY, that foster greater understanding and respect for people with intellectual disabilities.

To kick off Project UNIFY, 17 young people from across the country, aged 14-20, with and without intellectual disabilities, have assembled in Washington, D.C. for the first Project UNIFY Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) meeting. The committee is meeting from September 18-20 during the Department of Education's 2008 Global Summit on Education, whose theme this year is "Inclusive Practices for Students with Disabilities."

The YAC members, representing middle schools, high schools and colleges nationwide, will work together over the course of the year to promote school communities where all young people are agents of change. During their time on the committee, YAC members will provide leadership to Special Olympics and Project UNIFY by participating in Special Olympics global events, providing advice and counsel on strategies to reach other youths, engaging in and promoting Special Olympics activities in their home environments, communicating and networking via Web connectivity with other youth around the country, and reviewing Project UNIFY materials for innovation and viability.

In addition to forming the Youth Advisory Committee, other Project UNIFY initiatives include promoting the Special Olympics "R-word" (eliminate the word "retard" as an epithet) campaign, supporting local projects that meet the Project UNIFY objectives through a grant process for local Special Olympics Programs, hosting a Global Youth Congress as part of the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games, and participating in national forums and conferences on intellectual disabilities and education. Project UNIFY also brings to the forefront already existing Special Olympics programs such as Special Olympics Unified Sports®, Special Olympics Get Into It® service-learning curriculum and the Young Athletes™ program. which is for children between the ages of two and seven years old.

Special Olympics believes that through sports, youth can make a difference in friendships, schools and communities. In addition, Special Olympics recognizes that through sports training and competition, people with intellectual disability inspire hope, dignity and courage. Project UNIFY invites all young people to understand and to value their peers with intellectual disabilities and empowers youth to create opportunities for and with them in sport, friendship and advocacy.

About Special Olympics

Special Olympics is an international organization that changes lives by promoting understanding, acceptance and inclusion between people with and without intellectual disabilities. Through year-round sports training and athletic competition and other related programming for 2.8 million children and adults with intellectual disabilities in more than 180 countries, Special Olympics has created a model community that celebrates people's diverse gifts. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy and friendship. Visit Special Olympics at

Contact Information

  • Contacts:
    Special Olympics Contact:
    Cary McPartlin
    Special Olympics International
    +1 (202) 824-0298
    Email Contact