Volunteers spread Special Olympics cheer _lowres

Adcoate photo by C.J. FUTCH -- Volunteers from all over the area gather outside the Healthy Athletes event at Sherwood Middle Magnet on March 5. The event is held in conjunction with the statewide Special Olympics Games held at venues across Baton Rouge, and aims to educate athletes about healthy living.

Alexandria Whitten, a member Capital Area United Way’s Youth Volunteer Corps, handed out handmade cards decorated with suns, reading “Have an Awesome Day” during Saturday’s Healthy Athletes event.

Whitten, a junior at St. Joseph’s Academy, was one of many volunteers at the event, which provided information and services for athletes competing in the statewide Special Olympics.

Olympic Town, a play on Olympic Village, was staffed Saturday, providing athletes and their families with a building full of information important to health and wellness, said Pat Jackson, registered nurse and nurse coordinator for the Healthy Athletes event, held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Sherwood Forest Middle Magnet, in conjunction with the spring Special Olympics Games.

Stations included food, snacks, and health checks that included vision, hearing, teeth and body mass index, in addition to informational and educational booths where athletes could learn about good nutrition, healthy habits and the importance of staying hydrated and limiting sun exposure, Jackson said.

A group of about 75 volunteers, including students, doctors, nurses, dentists and physical therapists staffed the stations, Jackson said.

Giveaways included water bottles, fruit and bracelets that measured sun exposure, she said.

“The response has been great, both from the athletes and the volunteers working with them,” Jackson said.

One group of volunteers, young people from Capital Area United Way’s Youth Volunteer Corps, has had a strong presence at the event for the past two years, said Simone Guidry, a Youth Volunteer Corp team member and Americorps member working with the group of students between the ages of 11 and 18.

The group works on community projects throughout the year, Guidry said, but their main concentration of volunteering comes in the eight weeks of summer. This project, however, was their contribution to an international day of service, she said, with YVC groups across the world participating in their own community volunteering projects wherever they are located.

The Healthy Athletes event is fun for her volunteers, she said. The corps’ campaign focus has been “Happy is Healthy,” Guidry said, and you can’t find a much happier place than Special Olympics and the events connected to them.

That the Healthy Athletes event addresses ways to maintain and improve overall health, she said, makes it a perfect fit.

“It’s just my way of spreading happiness,” Whitten said, and she enjoyed the event so much that she made a point to come back this year after volunteering for the same event last year.

“Anyone who likes meeting and talking to new people from all different backgrounds would like volunteering here,” she said.

For information about volunteering for Special Olympics, visit www.laso.org/start-here/volunteer.

For information about United Way’s Youth Volunteer Corps, visit www.cauw.org/yvc or e-mail yvcteamleader@CAUW.org.