Love, friendship bring lifelong gifts to special needs kids and those who help them

Special Olympics – and Special Olympians – can be a magical thing.

But it’s not just a wonderful experience for the special needs children, youth and adults who take part in the games, it’s a chance for others to help those who look at life a little differently, to walk a time in their shoes.

And what a world they can see.

column shots.qxdI know. My brother was “mentally retarded” in the days before it become more politically correct to say “special needs.” I saw first-hand the challenges he faced and the way he and his classmates looked at things. A lot of the best things about who I am are because Steven was my brother. To be part of Special Olympics, to see the drive of Special Olympians is an experience you carry for a lifetime.

In the last week, I was privileged to meet a group of people who have taken a similar journey. This group of students have chosen to take part in Mustang High School teacher Greg Oswald’s Student Assisting Students class. They help special needs students and provide them a link to the rest of the school – something that’s rare because special needs students learn in their own classrooms.

While you could say the SAS students were just getting credit or maybe just thinking of good marks on their college applications, just a few minutes watching the interaction between them showed that wasn’t the case. It was obvious these students chose to do this and they were getting as much – perhaps more – than they were giving to their fellow students.

And that’s how Mustang High School really is, overall. From No Shiver November, where a group of students got together and gathered thousands of coats to help people at City Rescue Mission to the multitude of teams across the school working toward Relay for Life to the SAS students, these teenagers show how much they care for others. In a world where sometimes that seems few and far between, it gives a geezer like me hope – hope for the future, a shining light that shows just how good people can be.

The life of a special needs student can be difficult – lonely, sometimes painful because of slurs and cruelty from others who do not understand them or the challenges they face. At Mustang High School that might go on, but what certainly does happen is a group of guardians care and help those who they, themselves say, “face things we take for granted every day.”

Of course, every program needs a leader and these kids are learning by the example of their teacher, Greg Oswald. A man who lets his actions back up his words, I watched as Greg and his students stood laughing – and freezing – at the edge of a pool last Saturday during Polar Plunge. Their spirit and dedication, as well as Police Chief Chuck Foley and the others who braved the cold to help others, were warm enough to melt the coldest heart.

These people saw how special our Special Olympians truly are – not because they have special needs, but because they are unique, wondrous one-of-a-kind individuals who will change your life if you give them the chance.