WASHINGTON, January 22, 2020 - My name is Lucy Meyer and I am the Official Spokesperson for the Special Olympics-UNICEF USA Partnership and a Special Olympics athlete. After graduating high school last year, I decided to take a gap year to help children with disabilities around the world.
 
As part of my gap year, I travelled to Montenegro and Kosovo to meet children with disabilities and see the work that Special Olympics and UNICEF are doing to help children with disabilities through sport. It was a wonderful trip – full of hugs, smiles, play, discussion and meeting new friends.
 
A FRIEND FOR LIFE 
 
On my first day in Montenegro, I visited the Centre for Autism, Developmental Disabilities and Child Psychiatry in Podgorica. There, I met a young girl who has Cerebral Palsy like me. She was so sweet and I felt an immediate connection to her. She told me that she is learning to walk and that she would like me to return to Montenegro someday so that we can walk together! I loved hugging her and talking to her, we were so happy to meet and hang out with each other – her physical therapist said that she had never seen her talk so much!
 
THE JOY OF PLAYING UNIFIED!
 
Later that day, I had the chance to see Special Olympics Montenegro athletes in action playing Unified Soccer. They welcomed me to play too – and I couldn’t say no, it’s always fun to play soccer, especially Unified Soccer! Unified Sports combines athletes with and without disabilities to play on the same team. It's awesome! Unified Sports helps create acceptance for differences and inclusion which is crucial to having a healthy society.
 
INCLUSIVE EDUCATION FROM THE START
 
The next day, we drove through the mountains to Bijelo Polje, a town in northern Montenegro. I had the chance to meet some young Special Olympics athletes at an Inclusive Kindergarten called Duso Basekic Preschool. I was happy to see young children with and without intellectual disabilities playing sport together, because I know how important that was for me and my friends when we were growing up. Inclusive education teaches children that while everyone has differences, we all like many of the same things. This is such an important message! All the children of Montenegro deserve the opportunity to learn and grow through inclusive education.
 
LAUNCH OF SPECIAL OLYMPICS-UNICEF UNIFIED TEAMS YOUTH PARTNERSHIP
 
I was so happy to be part of the launch of the Special Olympics-UNICEF Unified Teams Youth Partnership in Montenegro. I spoke at the launch event with Judy Reinke, the US Ambassador to Montenegro and Nikola Janović, Montenegro’s Minister of Sports and Youth. We all strongly believe that this partnership launch is an important step in breaking stigma and making Montenegro a more inclusive society.
 
GOODBYE MONTENEGRO, HELLO KOSOVO
 
After saying goodbye to all my new friends in Montenegro, I was excited to make more new friends in Kosovo. One of our first stops was Mihajl Grameno in Fushe Kosovo, a school where Special Olympics Kosovo supports children with intellectual disabilities to learn, play, and have fun just like children without disabilities. The children welcomed me with big hugs, performed a beautiful dance and invited me to play games with them. We had a blast together!
 
ANOTHER PARTNERSHIP IN KOSOVO
 
In Kosovo, I was happy to see another partnership form. I attended the official signing of a new partnership between Special Olympics Kosovo and UNICEF Kosovo. When Special Olympics and UNICEF work together, amazing things happen for all kids, but especially for kids with disabilities. Together, I know that these two amazing organizations will make our world a better place by building a more inclusive society for all kids.
 
The more I travel, the more I see that the children of the world – with and without disabilities – are much more similar than they are different. They love to play sports, have fun, sing, dance, learn and they love to hug and be hugged!
 
It would mean so much to me if you go to my website at teamlucymeyer.org and follow me @TeamLucyMeyer on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Thank you so much for your support!
 
Love, Lucy