Did you know that yesterday was Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s birthday? She is known internationally as the woman who began Special Olympics in the late 60’s. There were 1,000 participants the first year… and today, there are over three million athletes from 150 countries!
What was the impetus to begin Special Olympics?
It all began with a phone call. In 1960, Eunice Shriver received a call from a mother who could not find a summer camp for her child with an intellectual disability. She solved this problem by beginning her own camp, “Camp Shriver” at Timberlawn, her farm in Maryland. She would invite children with disabilities to participate in recreational activities with her children and their friends. What was most important to her was the interaction between typical children and children with special needs.
Ten years earlier, a group of parents approached Dr. Gertrude Barber and told her that the school district would not accept their children because they had disabilities. She believed that all children must have every opportunity to develop to his or her fullest potential. And so began the Barber Center.
Two women unknown to each other, but with similar dreams. Overtime, their paths frequently crossed as they advocated for children and adults with disabilities. Because of Eunice Shriver, President John F. Kennedy established the White House Task Force on Education and Rehabilitation of the Mentally Retarded. Dr. Barber was one of twenty-five delegates nationwide who was invited to serve. This was the beginning of the national movement to serve children and adults with disabilities.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Gertrude Barber influenced dramatic changes in attitudes towards people with disabilities through legislation, education and public awareness. Certainly, they are two women who changed our world for the better.