Looks Bright: Special Olympics volunteer inspired by cousin’s spirit

Published 12:15 am Saturday, September 19, 2015

LAPLACE — Along with doing normal 12-year-old activities, like playing sports and hanging out with friends and family, Thomas Chapman does one thing that is close to his heart.

He spends his time volunteering with the Special Olympics.

Thomas is a seventh grader at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic School in LaPlace.

This past summer he volunteered with Camp Shriver, a camp for special needs people, and now he is volunteering with the Special Olympics swim team.

“My cousin Andrew (Miller) has autism,” Thomas said. “He is a blessing to our family.”

According to the Autism Society’s website, autism spectrum disorder or ASD is a complex developmental disability. Signs typically appear during early childhood and impact a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. The Center for Disease Control says about one in 68 children has been identified with ASD and it is almost five times more common among boys than girls.

Thomas uses his skills from the AOL swim team to help his cousin, Andrew Miller, and the others on the Special Olympics swim team.

“I like to put smiles on their faces,” Thomas said. “I swim free style and other strokes like butterfly, front and back stroke. If they need help in the water, I help them. I’ve been swimming since I was 5.”

Thomas went to the swim team’s first practice Tuesday.

“It was fun,” he said. “My cousin is a really good swimmer, he can do like ten laps.”

It seems that Thomas and Andrew are pretty close; he had tears in his eyes when he talked about his cousin.

“We have a good relationship,” Thomas said. “Sometimes I go to his house and just him seeing me makes his day. He always makes me smile.”

Thomas explained he enjoys spending time working with the Special Olympics and his cousin and he hopes more people get involved with activates with people who have special needs.

“People may see autistic people and think, ‘I better stay away from them,’ but they should be around them because they are so happy,” Thomas said.

People who know Thomas weren’t surprised when they found out he was helping out with the swim team.

“Thomas is a good kid all around,” AOL school counselor Christine Escobar said. “He likes to help people. You don’t have to ask him twice for him to help. Thomas will help anyone from pre-k to seventh grade here.”

Escobar said Thomas told her it was uplifting working with the special needs group over the summer and she knows he will have a good time working with the swim team.

“I saw him working with the Special Olympics summer camp,” Escobar said.

“I saw Thomas’ face light up. It seemed like he was in his element, and he was enjoying what he was doing. It wasn’t like he had to be there, but he wanted to be there.”

Along with volunteering with the Special Olympics, Thomas is a Eucharistic Minister to the sick and a lector at mass. He is in the Beta Club and a member of the student council at AOL. For sports, Thomas is part of the AOL swim team, as well as the Riverland Stingrays; the AOL Crusaders baseball team, Larayo baseball team and Raptor travel baseball teams; he is a member of the AOL basketball team; and is a quarterback for the AOL/SJA Chargers team.

— By Raquel Derganz Baker