Today, as I read Maria Shriver’s Sunday essay on unity, inclusion, and the Special Olympics turning 50, I could not help but think about my aunt, Gertrude Barber.
Her life has so many parallels to Eunice Kennedy and her endeavor to begin the Special Olympics. Maria writes, “the Special Olympics are about family, the respect of the individual, the power of voluntarism, and the strength of the community.”
Dr. Barber began her mission in 1952 because she was unwilling to tell parents that their child could not go to school because of their disability. At that time, their only recourse was to send the child to an institution or keep the child home.
But Dr. Barber had a vision of what these children needed in order for them to reach their potential. So, she and her volunteers began the first classes in Erie County and from that point on, there was no stopping her. The Erie community quickly fell into step behind this mission. Next came Adult Services, Residential services, Family Support; locations in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh… and the list continues to grow.
As a child, I remember going to a “day camp” that she offered at Turnwald. Although I did not know it as a 10 year old, she wanted children with special needs to have an inclusive opportunity. Only later did I realize the strong similarity to Eunice Kennedy’s humble beginning of the Special Olympics: a summer camp at her home for children with special needs, at which she engaged her children to participate as well.
Thinking about where we are today, I am pleased to see the many areas where our commitment to provide each child and adult with every opportunity to be the best they can be remains as strong as it did nearly 70 years ago. Although our dreams and visions evolve with time, the heart of our mission remains strong with these core beliefs…and continues forward!