Making Friends While Making a Difference

It was a Friday in November. November 20 to be exact. It was also the day that now-best-friends Jake and Katrina met each other for the first time.

Their school’s inclusion club was holding a virtual bingo event which they both attended from their homes. Little did they know what was to come, and the friendship they would form.

In August 2021, Jake and Katrina were appointed as Unified partners on Special Olympics Illinois’ Youth Activation Committee. Special Olympics believes that through sports, young people can make a difference in friendships, schools and communities. Unified Champion Schools is youth driven, with a Youth Activation Committee (YAC) made up of young people representing middle schools, high schools and colleges statewide.

At the same time, the pair was nominated to be Illinois Youth Leaders for the 2022 USA Games. Between these two positions, they began working together almost every day.

From there, Katrina and Jake got to know each other well and found out they share many common interests: movies, ice cream, video games, and hugs. Most of all, they both love when they get to hang out with one another.

Katrina and Jake have alternating school lunch schedules, only allowing them to eat lunch together every other day. They make the most of their lunch periods together, using it as a time to hang out, study, and eat.

Jake and Katrina often find themselves wondering what their lives would be like if they hadn’t met each other. They would be missing out on so many events that they look forward to every day; events like school dances, going out to eat together, and seeing school plays. There is one thing that Katrina and Jake can thank for all of their memories together: Unified Champion Schools.

The Unified Champion Schools Strategy works to further develop inclusive learning and social environments for all students, with and without disabilities. By utilizing the three key components of Unified sports, inclusive youth leadership, and whole school engagement, schools can elevate the inclusion and unification among their students as well as further social emotional learning for all.

The duo is so thankful that they got the opportunity to work together on the Youth Activation Committee because they would never have the chance to become best friends. Without Unified Champion Schools, they would have missed out on so many of their high school memories.

To learn more about Unified Champion Schools and how to get involved, please visit ucs.soill.org.