Mother, daughter bond with volunteer work

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 26, 1998

By STACEY PLAISANCE / L’Observateur / August 26, 1998

Olympic dreams bond a local mother and daughter in their partnership to “give a little compassion and caring back to our fellow man,” said Susie Aubert, Louisiana Special Olympics volunteer.

Residents of Montz, Susie Aubert and her daughter Amy have served as LSO volunteers for three years and have developed a unique appreciation for their volunteer work. The LSO program has helped build a specialconnection between the mother-daughter team, as “it’s something we can do together,” Susie said. “Amy goes to St. Louis every summer to see herdad, so when she comes back she volunteers at the annual tennis tournament, and it brings us back together.” Personal experiences and a passion for athletics has enhanced the duo’s LSO volunteer experiences. Having suffered a bicycle accident eight yearsago, Susie said working with Special Olympics has made her more aware of how fortunate she and her family are.

“Had it not been for my helmet, I probably would have had severe head damage,” Susie said. “The helmet was completely split, and aftervolunteering, I have realized how close I was to being mentally disabled.

That gave me another appreciation for it.”Special Olympics is the world’s largest program of sports training and athletic competition developed exclusively for individuals with mental disabilities. The program provides year-round sports training and athleticcompetition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults.

Louisiana Special Olympics provides these opportunities for more than 12,000 athletes who participate in community-based programs throughout the state.

Susie explained that while many athletes in Special Olympics have Down Syndrome, several became mentally disabled in accidents such as hers.

“We can become mentally disabled in an instant,” Susie said. “We are sofortunate, and to me, those who are given much, are required much.”Susie said she wanted her daughter to grow and benefit from volunteering for Special Olympics. Amy, a sixth-grade student at Sacred Heart Schoolin Norco, is a member of the Beta Club and Girl Scouts and was last year’s recipient of the school’s “Courtesy Award.””My thinking was that volunteering would be really good for my child,” Susie said. “It will teach her compassion, give her self-confidence andhelp her grow emotionally strong. This world needs love, and it’simportant for her to learn compassion.”For Amy, volunteering has not only been a learning experience, but a world of fun, too.

“As I get older, I want to become more involved in Special Olympics as a volunteer because it’s so much fun,” Amy said. “I gave up going to the malland a sleepover with my friends to volunteer for the tennis tournament, and I’m glad I did.”Amy said she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on anything when she volunteers. Her first volunteer assignment was to hand out awards to thewinners of the 1995 Olympic Games competition, and she described her first interaction with the athletes.

“When I was giving them awards and went to give them a handshake, they would kiss my hand as their way of saying ‘thank you,'” she said. “Theymay talk different, and sometimes you can’t understand them, but they understand you.”She said the athletes are extremely appreciative of their volunteers, and they express their gratitude openly.

According to the 1995 Special Olympics Volunteer Guide, volunteers are an integral part of the Special Olympics program.

“Volunteers enable Special Olympics to offer sports training and competition programs to nearly one million individuals with mental disability on a worldwide basis,” the manual states. “Special Olympicswould not exist today – and could not have been created – without the time, energy, dedication and commitment of the more than 500,000 Special Olympics volunteers.”Both Susie and Amy admit to feeling slightly nervous their first time working as volunteers, but both said that now they have no intentions of ever quitting.

“It can be addictive,” Susie said. “Even my husband filled in as a volunteerfor the tennis tournament on his vacation time, and now he’s excited about next year. He appreciates the way we put family first and then what wehave left to give, we give.”Louisiana Special Olympics celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, as LOS began 30 years ago with 15 athletes from the Belle Chase State School competing in the First International Special Olympics Games in Chicago. Currently more than 12,000 mentally disabled children and adultsin Louisiana participate in more than 20 Olympic-type sports including basketball, track & field, softball, bowling golf, equestrian, gymnastics, powerlifting, swimming and diving, volleyball, tennis bocce and team handball.

With their passion for athletics, Susie and Amy said they keep active. Amyplays soccer and plans to try out for basketball, volleyball and softball this year. Susie runs daily and has participated in five 5K competitions,winning several, she said.

Amy plans to attend college after high school to pursue a career as a doctor or lawyer, “but I will definitely help with Special Olympics and volunteer,” she added.

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