Winning at Volunteerism at the Special Olympics World Games
August 2023 Issue
by Lesley Kyle
Photography (top and right) by T.R. Love, T.R. Media World
Morgan Smith began volunteering with the Special Olympics in the sixth grade.
Her introduction to volunteerism began in an untraditional way. Born and raised in Hilton Head, Morgan had difficulty making friends in elementary school. She arrived early on her first day of middle school and met Kathy Cramer, a special education teacher. Morgan watched from the curb as Kathy unloaded some equipment from her car. Kathy asked Morgan to help her. They unloaded the equipment, and Morgan then helped Kathy's students as they got off the bus. “All of these kids wanted to be my friend! I felt included and welcomed,” said Morgan. From that day forward, Morgan helped Kathy and those children with intellectual disabilities each and every day until she went to college. Little did she know that her chance meeting would later lead to the rewarding career she now loves.
After graduating from college, Morgan worked in the theater until everything came to a halt when COVID-19 arrived. During the pandemic, she managed a Cook Out Restaurant and decided it wasn’t the right fit for her. As the pandemic dragged on, she decided to leave the area and regroup. Morgan made plans to move to Roxbury, a small town in Connecticut, to live with and help her grandparents. While moving, Morgan serendipitously received an invitation to a friend’s wedding on Hilton Head Island. That friend, as it happened, was also a Special Olympics Volunteer. Morgan and Kathy stayed in touch through Facebook over the years and soon met again face-to-face at the wedding of that mutual friend in April 2022.
Morgan learned that Kathy, now the Executive Director of SOAR Special Recreation, was in the process of forming the 501c 3 nonprofit. Kathy filled Morgan in on her plans and told her she had a position in mind for her. Morgan returned to the Lowcountry and joined SOAR as the Director of Youth Programs last September. SOAR’s mission is to enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities by providing opportunities through Special Olympics sports and recreation and facilitating social interaction. “No two days are the same, and I love it because we work with so many different schools," said Morgan. All Beaufort and Jasper County Schools recognize Special Olympics, so Morgan’s workdays are filled with tasks for and goals of promoting inclusion. SOAR organizes and oversees Special Olympic programs which include tennis, equestrian activities, bowling, swimming, bocce, and cheerleading. She develops youth leadership opportunities for the intellectually disabled in schools. In addition, she oversees programs for intellectually disabled younger children not enrolled in school. These kids are eligible for programs that teach them healthy habits and valuable skills like making friends.
Morgan attended the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany, this past June. After completing a rigorous application and vetting process, which included two interviews, Morgan was among just 200 of 25,000 global candidates selected to attend the Games. This remarkable achievement reassured Morgan that her important work with the intellectually-disabled was precisely what she was supposed to do with her life. Morgan studied German in college and was assigned to serve as a delegation assistant liaison to the small Dutch island municipality of Bonaire. The student athletes spoke only Papiamento, the native language of Bonaire. The coaches, on the other hand, spoke Dutch and English. Morgan’s role was to translate conversations and instructions from German to English. The coaches, in turn, would relay the information in Papiamento to the student athletes.
The experience was life-changing for Morgan. She had the unique experience of spending time with people from 190 different nations who were there for one reason: To celebrate inclusion. “Even with the stress of working 24-hour shifts for three weeks, the beauty of people from every walk of life coming together was extraordinary,” said Morgan. “Watching children and adults – with and without intellectual disabilities – uniting as one despite language barriers and cultural differences is a memory I will treasure forever.”
The next Special Olympics World Winter Games will be held in Torino, Italy. Eager to participate in the Games again, Morgan submitted her application and hopes to be among those selected to attend in March 2025. In the meantime, she is learning Spanish, hopes to continue traveling, and enjoys her rewarding work immensely. “Hilton Head taught me a sense of community. From a young age, the schools encouraged volunteer service and community engagement,” said Morgan. “I have had incredible role models who taught me to feel a part of my community. I have to give back to it.”