When people speak of the origin of Special Olympics, they look no
further than the first Camp Shriver—founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in
the early 1960s. They talk of one woman's dream that started in her own
backyard. They speak of her vision: how through sports, the lives of
people with intellectual disabilities would be transformed and public
perceptions would be changed forever.
in 1960, a woman from Bethesda, Md. called up Eunice and told her that
she was having trouble finding a summer camp for her child with
intellectual disability. The child wouldn't be accepted into a
mainstream camp, and, at that time, the public education system couldn't
figure out what to do with special-needs children never mind supply
them with summer activities. Then another woman told her almost the same
"Enough," said Eunice.
In Eunice's world, "enough" has always meant "do something about it."
An Instant Success
was born Camp Shriver, which she started at her Maryland farm,
Timberlawn. Eunice asked special schools and clinics in her area to
provide names of special-needs children who might be interested. Then
she recruited high school and college students to act as counselors. It
was almost a one-on-one situation--34 children, 26 counselors.
almost everyone's surprise--the exception being Eunice--it was an
instant success. The children swam, kicked soccer balls, shot baskets
and rode horses under the summer sun. Perhaps most importantly, the
young counselors, wary at first, began to see, as Eunice already had,
that these children were not "difficult," "unteachable," "belligerent"
and all those other stereotypes that had been ascribed to them. They
merely wanted to have fun ... just like every other kid.
camp continued and flourished, people from the community came out to
watch, and they were followed by representatives of the parks department
and public-school system. "That's when it really began to catch on,"
Learning Through Interaction
the most important aspects of Camp Shriver was Eunice's insistence there
be an interaction between children with special needs and typical
children. One of the latter was Tim, her son, just three years old when
the camp began. Tim was paired with a young boy with intellectual
disabilities named Wendell. They swam together, ate together, ran
together and sometimes got in trouble together.
"The thing about
Camp Shriver was that it was fun," says Tim. "That's what my parents are
good at it--making important things fun."
As the number of
campers grew over the years, reaching about 100, so did the number of
counselors. Special-needs grow and thrive with attention, and at Camp
Shriver there were never kids moping around alone. They were engaged.
"My mother always believed that one-on-one relationships can change
people's lives," says Maria Shriver.
Special Olympics Florida is proud to carry on Eunice's legacy by continuing to offer Camp Shriver in our state.