BALTIMORE, Md. -- (NNS) -- Service members worked with Special Olympics Maryland Young Athletes on Oct. 8 as part of Maryland Fleet Week and Air Show Baltimore.
Sailors and Marines from the Harpers Ferry-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) and the Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) volunteered with Johnson Square Elementary students and ran obstacle courses, played basketball, parachute games and soccer in an effort to improve motor skills for the young athletes. Young Athletes is a budding Special Olympic program created two years ago that aims to include children ages seven and below in athletics.
“One of the great values of today is seeing the power of the movement and providing an experience that comes with a life of sports,” said James C. Shmutz, president and CEO of the Young Athletes program. “It’s great to work with the volunteer service members during fleet week so the kids can get that interaction and involvement with the community.”
During fleet week, Sailors have volunteered with youth groups; science, technology, engineering, mathematics workshops; and a children’s hospital and environmental cleanup efforts around the city. For many Sailors and Marines, these volunteer opportunities were the highlight of their week.
“This has been my favorite event so far,” said Yeoman 2nd Class Quantez Jefferson, from Atlanta. “This gives me the chance to really experience Baltimore and to see the excitement from these young athletes, which is contagious. You can’t help but feel happy.”
Young Athletes currently serves 7,782 athletes, but aims to expand to serve 20,000 by 2025. The program estimates 2 percent of Maryland population is eligible for the benefits of the Special Olympics and hopes to increase their reach to serve this population. Special Olympics Maryland depends on volunteer efforts like those provided by fleet week service members to provide their free service.
“Before I signed up for this event, I had never heard of this program,” said Lance Cpl. Adam Koslik, assigned to the 2nd Marine Division onboard the Oak Hill. “I enjoy the energy from these kids and it makes me respect the volunteers that work with these kids day in and day out, because after an hour of playing games with them I am already tired! I made the right decision to come out and volunteer today because this is awesome.”
The mission of the Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for persons with disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
Throughout Maryland Fleet Week and Air Show Baltimore, Oct. 3-9, U.S., Canadian and British navy vessels will be available for embarking visitors in the Inner Harbor, Fells Point and Locust Point. Service members will be participating in an array of other activities, including visiting local schools, conducting ship tours, attending receptions and sporting events, participating in community service projects and experiencing Baltimore.
MDFWASB is Baltimore’s celebration of the sea services and provides an opportunity for the citizens of Maryland and the city of Baltimore to meet Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, as well as see firsthand the latest capabilities of today’s maritime services.
For more news from Navy Public Affairs Support Element, visit www.navy.mil/local/npasehq/.