Working at Special Olympics Headquarters

With my coworkers Josh and Garrie

The following post is on my employment at @SpecialOlympics since October 2010. The growth and changes in my role in the Unified Champion Schools department. My future career aspirations down the road for me.

It is hard to believe that I have been working at Special Olympics Headquarters for 7 years. My work anniversary was on October 18th. To me, working at Special Olympics for those seven years feel more like 14 years. As I looked back at these seven years, I remembered from my beginnings in the office to the current day.

Prior to coming work at Special Olympics, I had zero work experience. An internship was an ideal start for me to gain work experience and potentially a job out of the internship. Thus, I started working at Special Olympics as an intern for the Unified Champion Schools department during the summer of 2010. I had recently graduated from George Mason University when I was brought on to be a part of a three intern crew for communications and support of the 2010 USA Games Youth Summit and Educator Leadership Conference in Nebraska. Throughout my internship, I gained a desire to work for Special Olympics so I consistently asked about potential employment after my internship. I was also intent on proving that I have skills that would be helpful to the Unified Champion Schools department. After my internship and my efforts to prove my value and skills, I was brought in for an interview. A few weeks later, I was offered and accepted the job of Coordinator for the department in October 2010.

Throughout the first few years of my employment, I had a huge learning curve around professionalism and developing my skills set. I admit that I had a lot of ups and downs during those years. An internship can only teach so much compared to the real deal. Sometime between my second and third year of employment, I realized that I needed to be serious and more professional. I must give credit to my mentor, Oscar Harrell, for guiding me in my professionalism and growth throughout the years. My new found professionalism was put to the test in July 2013.

At the Special Olympics North America Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. I had various roles and responsibilities throughout the conference as well as also being a panelist. My stress and emotional levels were tested and sometimes overloaded. In the end, overcoming a few bumps, I passed the challenge. Almost a year later, I was put to the challenge again.

The 2014 USA Games in New Jersey at its Youth Summit was another big test for me. Compared to my internship with the 2010 USA Games, the 2014 USA Games saw me having expanded roles including being in charge of one of the dorms and being a bus captain. While I was able to do so much in 2010, it was stark in contrast to my performance in 2014. I excelled and stood up to the pressure and demands of my responsibilities. Four years made a difference as well as growth and maturity.

After the 2014 USA Games Youth Summit, I continued my growth with learning new skills and applying them in my every day routines and assignments. While I grow and developed in order to have a long career with Special Olympics, I also saw a few staff changes among others at Special Olympics. It is a part of daily workplace culture. Although it may be challenging when staff changes involved good coworkers and friends you grew to know over time, there will always be growth and continuous improvement among everyone. One of my friends’ departures inspired me to start a new trend (Hawaiian Thursday) so good things can come from it. Then came 2016 and milestones in my career.

At the 2016 Global Unified Youth Exchange

2016 started with the first ever Unified Champion Schools Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. It was another learning curve for everyone, including me, with different responsibilities and roles to fulfill. It was a challenge but we were successful. A few months later, I was promoted to Specialist and my role in data management expanded beyond my normal routine of looking into financial and school data and creating pivot tables.

I was put in charge of looking and compiling the 2015–2016 school year (Year 8) data from Programs. It was a fun challenge. I was also involved in supporting the 2016 Global Unified Youth Exchange in North Carolina in late 2016. I did very well with just a little stress getting to me but it was one amazing experience. One of the fun things I learned from the Global Unified Youth Exchange is that I met some exciting new people that I never met before. Learning about each individual and their background was an opening eye experience. Another thing I have learned over my business travels, traveling by yourself on any form of transportation is a great way to reflect and take in the experience. One last thing from the Global Unified Youth Exchange, seeing new places and exploring your surroundings gives you a new perspective that you can relax and have fun while still working. It may sound odd but it is true. If you love what you do as a job then you’re living with happiness and joy. It would be hard to follow up a great year with another one.

The Unified Champion Schools Team celebrating my 2016 Special Olympics Virginia Athlete of the Year Award

2017 was a year of both professional and personal achievements. Starting off with the professional achievements, I successfully created a heat map of all Unified Champion Schools from the Year 8 data using Google Fusion Tables. The heat map itself made its grand debut at the 2017 Unified Champion Schools Conference in South Carolina. Since the heat map’s debut, I have assisted a few Programs in using Google Fusion Tables. I also developed a tutorial video and template for Programs to use as well. From this success, the Year 9 (2016–2017 School Year) Heat Map was created along with 48 individual heat maps for US State Programs. A personal achievement from this year was being named the 2016 Special Olympics Virginia Athlete of the Year. Celebrating the achievement with family, friends, teammates and coworkers made me realized that I have come so far in my life professionally and personally.

I have grown over these years and there still is more room. I get a great sense of pride in being able to be helpful and useful and a contributor to our team, and the organization as a whole. I know I have more to offer. I must give well deserved credit to my supervisor, Andrea Cahn, my mentor, Oscar Harrell, my coworkers in Unified Champion Schools and at Special Olympics Headquarters. My family, friends and teammates also earn high praises and credit for their part in my growth. All of them have been a part of this journey for me. They will also be a part of my journey to become the first Special Olympics athlete Program CEO.

It has only been recently that the thought of becoming a Special Olympics Program CEO has took shape in my career aspirations. Originally, it was a thought that I said to Tim Shriver back in 2013 at the SONA Conference. The thought stuck around from various conversations since then. Now, it has become a goal for me. I have begun planning out my path to reach this goal. The mentoring program in the office is helping me build the desired skill set through proper trainings, making the right connections and developing my network beyond Special Olympics. It will be a long road but I am very confident that I can reach this goal.

I’ll end my story with a quote from Marion Wayans that sums up my journey to date and the journey to come for me.

“Success is not a destination, but the road that you’re on. Being successful means that you’re working hard and walking your walk every day. You can only live your dream by working hard towards it. That’s living your dream.”
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