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Community Impact

Faces of Inclusion: Stories of Impact from Play Unified: Learn Unified

A screenshot of the title page of the Faces of Inclusion storybook, which reads “Faces of Inclusion,” and includes the Special Olympics and Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s logos. It features nine different pictures of Special Olympics participants. Everyone is smiling. Many wear Special Olympics jerseys, and some give thumbs up or peace signs.

Over the past three years, thanks to a generous grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), Special Olympics has successfully delivered on an ambitious vision to transform school settings into communities of acceptance and inclusion for youth with intellectual disabilities. Through the Play Unified: Learn Unified initiative, Special Olympics is implementing its transformative school-based programming—Unified Schools—in 14 countries and jurisdictions across the globe. In just three short years—despite the challenges of a pandemic—Play Unified: Learn Unified has forged an international team of youth leaders, teachers, community organizers and coaches who every day are bringing the power of social inclusion to schools and communities in six Special Olympics Regions.

Special Olympics takes great pride in having reached 750,000 athletes and their peer partners worldwide. As a vital component of this international effort, Play Unified: Learn Unified by itself has now reached over 200,000 youth and, along the way, revealed how young people define and desire a world of inclusion, envisioning an entire planet characterized by understanding, empathy and dignity. In addition, since 2018, Play Unified: Learn Unified has engaged over 1,950 Unified Schools, trained more than 26,000 Unified Sports coaches and teachers, and awarded more than 300 Youth Innovation Grants to young people eager to implement their own ideas about inclusion.

The Faces of Inclusion stories highlight the impact of Play Unified: Learn Unified through the lens of our key communities—the students, coaches, teachers, parents, and organizational partners. These stories put faces on the many lives and communities forever changed through the transformative power of Play Unified: Learn Unified. By joining forces, SNF and Special Olympics have enabled their efforts and impact to spill far beyond the schoolhouse doors, fostering communities and cultures where intellectual differences are accepted and embraced.

The pages of Faces of Inclusion will introduce you to just a handful of the thousands of individuals whose day-in and day-out commitment have taken Play Unified: Learn Unified from vision to reality.

These are the individuals who are driving inclusion forward in their own schools and communities.

These are the individuals whose lives have changed because of Play Unified: Learn Unified.

These are their stories of impact.

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