Working with the special needs community made me a better person

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Time expired and the game was officially over. Our first attempt playing softball competitively as a team ended with two tough losses, placing fourth in the tournament.

Despite the losses, everyone’s heads were held high. The players grinned from ear to ear, expressing the joy they felt from being able to play.

As each team walked down the foul ball line and met at home plate, good sportsmanship was on full display. Everyone exchanged compliments and shook hands with one another.

As I was walked to my car after packing up the equipment, a spectator stopped me to tell me how much she enjoyed my spirit and the way I interacted with the players.

A man who was with her said that he had expressed the same sentiments to the director of the tournament.

Although I wasn’t expecting to receive any compliments, it brought a feeling of joy to my heart to be praised for something that I love to do, which is to make those around me feel good about themselves and to feel loved.

Growing up in a big family that includes members who have autism, down syndrome and other special needs, I was exposed at an early age to the challenges that those with special needs face.

My mom says I have always been drawn towards people, especially those with special needs.

My first experience professionally with special needs began about a year after graduating high school in 2006.

I got a position as a job coach, meeting clients at their work location and offered my assistance when needed.

Although I loved what I did, my immaturity didn’t allow me to fully provide the help that was needed. I began to show up on and off, and eventually left the job.

If I regret anything in life, it is how I handled that job.

As the years passed, I worked security for places like the San Diego Airport and Hertz Rental. I became complacent and felt as if I needed to find my purpose.

A co-worker, whom I now consider to be a brother, suggested that I apply for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as a special needs teacher’s assistant.

Before that moment, I never considered being a teacher because I thought it was something that I did not want to do.

Yet, I still applied.

After applying and testing, I was hired as a Special Education Trainee. Once I totaled over 300 hours, my title changed to Special Needs Assistant, also known as a paraprofessional.

For the first two years I bounced around schools until I landed a permanent spot at an elementary school in Carson, where I reunited with my old co-worker.

Once again, he suggested I apply to the City of Carson as a park and recreations assistant.

I did that, but also applied to other positions within the city as well. The position that I interviewed for was Recreation Assistant II for the Special Needs Department, which is now known as Therapeutic Recreation.

After a few months, my supervisor learned that I played in a co-ed adult softball league weekly and asked what other sports I played.

She asked if I wanted to coach in the Special Olympics.

Even though I’ve coached in the past, I knew this experience would be different, but this was something I wanted.

What I did not know is that this would be something that I needed.

From bowling competitions, basketball, track and field events and most recently softball, I have never seen so much positivity.

Spirits are high amongst athletes and those who participate in the Special Olympics.

Looking back, I feel like I got a second chance to make a difference in athletes’ lives.

One of my fondest memories is when an athlete from another team passed out business cards on a three by five index card.

Although it was not printed professionally, it was the effort that he put into writing each card out that stood out.

The card sits on my dresser at home to this day.

Working with the special needs community has inspired me to be a better version of myself and to always give my all no matter what.

Before every Special Olympic event, it’s a tradition for everyone to recite the oath, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Under my tenure as a coach, we have placed first in many competitions, including winning the summer games basketball championship.

I am looking forward to the winter games and sharing more experiences with my athletes.

No matter what happens in life, I want to make sure that I am able to continue to represent the City of Carson as a volunteer coach and to be active in the special needs community.

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