On Wednesday, January 27th there was a certain excitement in the air on Capitol Hill – not only because of the President’s State of the Union address – but because Special Olympics athletes, Best Buddies participants, along with coaches, program leaders and family members from 43 states across the U.S. were in town to share their passion for the needs of those with intellectual disabilities.
From left to right: Jeremy Vest, Buddy, Best Buddies Maryland; Erica Wheeler, Athlete/Board Member, Special Olympics Maryland; Anthony K.Shriver, Founder & Chairman of Best Buddies; Tim Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics; Carl Lewis, 10-time Olympic Gold medalist; Lindsay Mibach, Athlete, Special Olympics Northern California; Joe Jonas, Platinum album selling Jonas Brothers; Christopher McKelvy, Best Buddies Partner, Best Buddies International; Nancy Pelosi, 60th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives; David Gauthier, Best Buddies Jobs Participant
The delegations came from far and wide to urge Members of Congress to pass The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act, which will continue a national commitment by the U.S. Congress made with passage of the 2004 Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act.
While Capitol Hill Day is in its sixth year, this year’s Hill Day had a special sense of urgency as the legacy of Special Olympics’ founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver was honored on the Hill. This new legislation continues her legacy by authorizing funds for specific programs supporting persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in health, education and global program initiatives. Mrs. Shriver, who passed away in August 2009, founded Special Olympics in 1968 and was a longtime supporter and board member of Best Buddies, which was founded in 1989.
Our athletes and families kept busy on Wednesday. In a single day more than 275 meetings were held on the Hill – over half of which were directly with Members of Congress!
Members of Congress were moved by their meetings with Special Olympics and Best Buddies delegations. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, presented his official Chairman’s gavel to Best Buddies participant Emilio Mark from Maui High School in Hawaii. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) gave Special Olympics Utah athlete Donna Gunn a ticket to the State of the Union address by President Barack Obama later that evening.
Delegations met with some of the most influential figures on the Hill. Special Olympics and Best Buddies had a morning meeting with Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who made remarks including: “…Most important is what we can do in a matter of public policy, and that is our responsibility. So we look forward to passing The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act of 2010.” Also, Vice President Joe Biden met at his residence with a delegation of Special Olympics athletes and Best Buddies from Delaware, Nevada, and Texas.
In addition to notable political figures, also showing their support in attendance were Hollywood Records recording artist Joe Jonas of the Grammy nominated, platinum album selling Jonas Brothers,10-time Olympic Gold medalist Carl Lewis, as well as Miss Maryland USA Simone Feldman, and Miss Maryland Teen USA Kamie Crawford.
Joe Jonas and Carl Lewis even took time out of their busy schedules before the days’ meetings on the Hill started by participating in a morning run on the National Mall with Special Olympics athletes, Best Buddies participants, Tim Shriver and Anthony Shriver as well as Representative Tom Perriello (D-VA). The early morning run was an invigorating way to get delegations excited for the day ahead.
Another exciting feature of this year’s Capitol Hill Day was the integration of social media. Athletes, families and staff members used their Twitter and Facebook accounts to update the public on what was happening during their meetings on the Hill. Members of Congress even got in on the tweeting and expressed their excitement over meeting with Special Olympics athletes. When Joe Jonas tweeted about being on the Hill to support Special Olympics, more than 500 of his fans responded by following Special Olympics on Twitter. Photos from throughout the day were then shared on the Special Olympics Facebook Fan Page allowing the athletes and buddies to relive the day and those who weren't able to be there to get a feel for the the experience.
The day culminated in a reception in honor of Mrs. Shriver, which was attended by members of Congress including: Representative Roy Blunt (R-MO), Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Representative Norman Dicks (D-WA). Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), ), Representative Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Senator Paul G. Kirk (D-MA) Representative Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). White House Disability Policy Advisor Kareem Dale also attended.
Overall, Capitol Hill Day was a tremendous success for the movement. Most notably, in conjunction with our efforts on Capitol Hill, Special Olympics Chairman and CEO, Tim Shriver, and Best Buddies Founder and Chairman, Anthony Shriver, have announced an official annual day in honor of their mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, every fourth Saturday in September with the first this September 25, 2010. Mrs. Shriver was a trail blazing leader who broke down barriers to improve the lives of millions of persons with intellectual disabilities, their families and communities around the world for over five decades.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day honors the vision, commitment and achievements of Mrs. Shriver and the tradition of making a difference that began in her backyard. The day’s events will honor her inspiration, impact and indomitable spirit and challenge generations to “play on” by becoming agents of acceptance and action in their communities.
As delegations wrapped up their time in Washington D.C. it was clear to see what an integrated, efficient team-building activity Hill Day was for the movement. For the first time we expanded to include our partners at Best Buddies, and on the heels of Mrs. Shriver’s legacy, together we were able to leave a re-energized mood on Capitol Hill for support and awareness of those with intellectual disabilities.