By Madison Sellers
Students and members of the Sewanee community gathered at Fowler Center on Wednesday, February 19 for New Life’s annual Special Olympics where adults with disabilities competed against students in a friendly “February Madness” basketball game. This was the first time Sewanee has hosted the organization’s Special Olympics, and it was additionally organized by the University Chapel and Phi Sigma Theta.
Hearing the enthusiastic yells and passionate cheering coming from the basketball court, a passerby might have thought the Sewanee Tigers were playing in a conference championship game against one of their biggest rivals. Even though Sewanee’s team was not made up of varsity players and they weren’t competing against Oglethorpe or Berry, the atmosphere on the court was just as spirited.
New Life is a non-profit agency based in Winchester that works with physically and intellectually disabled adults to provide them with opportunities to get involved in the community and improve their quality of life. The center has a residential program, where staff members assist residents with skills like cooking and money management, and a day program, which offers classes in areas including personal health, communication skills, and career skills. New Life also offers an art program where individuals are encouraged to channel their creativity into making works of art, which they can put on display and sell.
Back in November, students teamed up with New Life and helped create a sensory room to provide a space where adults at the center who are sensitive to noise can relax in a quiet, calm environment. The sensory room “has specifically helped a client improve his overall posture. He breathes a lot better now and is more interactive than he was before,” says Crystal Ngo (C’20), a site leader for the Bonner New Life site, who works to bring awareness of the organization’s cause to Sewanee.
For the basketball game, novice players volunteered to play for Sewanee’s team. Adults at the center were eager to play for New Life’s team, the All Stars. “They talked about it nonstop leading up to the game,” says Ngo.
The All Stars scored the first basket of the game, and Sewanee followed close behind, scoring two goals in the first four minutes. But it soon became clear where the skill on the court lied when the All Stars took the lead and didn’t give it up for the rest of the game. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 14-8, All Stars, and by halftime, the All Stars led 27-18. The halftime show was performed by All Star cheerleaders and featured the Cupid Shuffle, which got several members from the crowd off the bleachers and onto the court to dance. The All Stars won the game with a score of 49-45.
Alexes Castro (C’23), who played for Sewanee in the game, is a regular volunteer with New Life. “I find it very important to be inclusive with people at New Life because they all just want to have regular conversations and be a part of normal society,” Castro said. He loves working with adults from New Life because he wants to let them know that “they can always come here and be accepted.”
New Life comes to campus and has events with student volunteers like Castro every Tuesday from 11 to 1. Activities have included visiting the fire department, making reusable bags out of t-shirts, visiting the goats and planting at the farm, and leading yoga with the Wick.
Ngo, who plays an instrumental role in organizing these activities with New Life, described the Special Olympics as her “last big project” of the year and, as a senior preparing to graduate, her main focus now is to pass her leadership on. Jade Winter (C’23), who will be taking Ngo’s place as a New Life representative, says that one of her goals is to bring a “greater presence on campus” through increased involvement with organizations like OCCU, the Green House, and Greek Life.
Winter also described another long-term goal she calls “The Plan Of Dreams,” where she asks each individual at New Life about something they have always dreamed of and then works to make that dream a reality. Her goal is to make a dream happen for everyone at New Life before she graduates. She is seeking a location for a display where New Life can feature these dreams, which would include a place for students and community members to leave their information so they can volunteer to assist with a dream. She hopes that this plan “can create special memories for each adult and New Life itself,” while also building a stronger relationship with campus.
February Madness in Fowler was a success both in bringing the Sewanee community together and raising awareness for a great cause. Anyone looking to get involved can contact Crystal Ngo at email@example.com or Jade Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org for volunteer or donation opportunities.