Score One for Special Olympics Arkansas
Maumelle teen, Jaden Newman, is committed to equal opportunities to compete for all
By Dwain Hebdads
As an athlete, Jaden Newman knows the value of being part of a team. A soccer and volleyball standout, the 15-year-old has seen firsthand the importance of doing one’s part to advance the whole team.
She brings that same attitude of teamwork to her volunteerism with Special Olympics of Arkansas. Newman’s brother, Derek Smith, is a Special Olympics athlete in bocce and her entire family is invested in Special Olympics Arkansas.
“My father is in law enforcement, so obviously he does the law enforcement torch run to raise money for Special Olympics,” Newman said. “My mom has been the Area Five [Special Olympics] director for I don’t even know how long.”
Newman’s own volunteerism started at the tender age of 5. In the years that have followed, she’s been involved in a lot of different capacities.
“I go to different types of sports camps for Special Olympics where I volunteer,” she said. “They’ll have a group of kids and I’ll escort, I’ll take them to where they need to be, get them to dinner or lunch, stay with them. And I’ve done little day camps that my mom puts up. I’ll go and help with those. All different kinds of recreational stuff.”
Even though Newman may have been around the organization and its athletes for a decade, she said it wasn’t until two or three years ago that she understood the deeper meaning behind what Special Olympics provides.
“Special Olympics is about giving people, children and adults with intellectual disabilities a chance to come to a community where they meet other people like themselves,” she said. “Instead of talking about what they can’t do because of their disability, we shed light on what their strong suits, abilities and talents really are with sports and education, with guided training. We give them something to look for and something to do.”
Over the past year, Newman opened a new chapter in her participation, lending her athletic talents directly as a member of Arkansas’s Special Olympics Unified soccer team. Unified sports combine athletes with intellectual disabilities and those without on the same competitive squad. Newman’s team is practicing in preparation for the 2018 USA Games in Seattle.
“This is my very first year to actually participate in Unified sports,” she said. “I’ve been going to U.S. Games for a few years now, but this is my first to actually be involved hands-on with the athletes.”
Newman said she’d like the team’s success and her own volunteerism to bring about better awareness and help other people to better appreciate the talents and possibilities of all people.
“People older than me and younger than me fail to understand the depth of people with intellectual disabilities,” she said. “They don’t understand that they have the capacity to have a great personality and the capacity to want to have that same competitiveness in the sport they’re playing. In anything they do, they go at it the same way we would, just slightly differently, more special. That’s why we call it that.”
“I just don’t think people my age understand that. It definitely opened my eyes and showed me a new perspective on different types of people and it really broadened my life a little bit more.”
In addition to Special Olympics, the Maumelle High School 10th-grader is actively involved in her church.
“We go to nursing homes, we go to the different apartment complexes around and see if anybody needs any help with their yardwork or cleaning, any sort of things like that,” Newman said. “I hope to attend some mission trips in the future.”