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Volunteers are the Heartbeat of Special Olympics Summer Games

by on June 06, 2015 4:00 PM

Walking around Penn State's campus this weekend, it's clear that the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games have taken over town.

Teams from all over the state with a total of 2,000 athletes roam campus for various athletic competitions, but among the mix of colors is one that stands out: yellow.

The 2,500 volunteers who help run this year's Summer Games are wearing yellow t-shirts, and they make their presence known throughout an event that wouldn't work without them.

Emily Chambers, who has volunteered at the Special Olympics since she was in high school six years ago at Bald Eagle, was running a face-painting station on the East Halls lawn on Saturday. This is her second year painting flowers, hearts, and pretty much anything on the athletes competing at Penn State.

"The first time I ever did it, it was just a thing to do on the weekend," Chambers says of her volunteer work. "But after meeting the athletes, they’re just the nicest people you’ll ever meet and they’re so happy all the time. It blows me away to see how hard they work and they just look forward tto his every year and get so excited."

What keeps Chambers coming back every year is those athletes and how friendly they are. They remember her from one year to the next and their happiness is contagious.

"I like meeting them and talking them because they just come up to you and are so friendly," she says. "They always tell me stuff like that they have a boyfriend or just got a job. There are a lot of athletes I remember from my high school that I see here and they remember you."

While the vast majority of volunteers wear those yellow shirts, Jayme Rhoads is a rare exception. She is part of a Penn State club called Superheroes for Kids, and was dressed up as Black Widow from The Avengers at Olympic Village, meeting the athletes and posing for pictures with them.

"I had such a great time last year that I wanted to come back and combine the two," Rhoads says, referring to Special Olympics and her club. "I kind of feel like a celebrity and it’s really fun."

The club mainly goes to hospitals in an effort to "cheer up sick kids and make them feel empowered," says Rhoads, but with such a great cause coming to her hometown, she couldn't resist the opportunity to help out.

"The vibe here is just so great. Everyone is so happy," Rhoads says. "All the volunteers are so helpful. All the athletes are just so energetic and it’s great to be around all this energy."

All the hard work put in by the volunteers doesn't go unnoticed. David K., an athlete from Pittsburgh competing in this weekend's Summer Games, smiled when asked about the volunteers.

"They do a really good job," he says. "They help us out all weekend."


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Zach Berger is the managing editor of He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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