“Those you think cannot . . . can!”
Washington Center’s motto says it all. A Greenville County public school serving children and young people with moderate to severe mental disabilities, Washington Center believes in giving each of their students a chance to shine. Washington Center Challenge Day, hosted every fall by Bob Jones University, is a Special Olympics event designed to do just that.
Even before she stepped off the bus at 9:30 a.m., Zoey was eager to get going, fussing at the bus driver to let her off more quickly.
“Right away she was talking, talking, talking,” says junior special education major Lindsay Cummings, who was one of Zoey’s athlete helpers. “I’d never had a student for Washington Center Day who was verbal.”
From Zoey’s information tag, Lindsay learned that Zoey suffered from seizures, and that she would need to ride in a wheelchair most of the time due to physical coordination difficulties. Despite these challenges, Zoey was ready to participate in everything with gusto.
While waiting in line for the Parade of Athletes, Zoey enjoyed the lively band music played by BJU’s Concert Band. She impressed everyone with her amazing sense of rhythm. “She was clapping and following [the music] just right,” Lindsay says. “She just kept cheering whenever a song would end.”
Finally, it was time for Zoey’s special moment—leading the Special Olympics oath in front of all the Washington Center athletes, teachers and family members, as well as hundreds of BJU students.
Zoey repeated after her teacher phrase-by-phrase, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
Many children at Washington Center Day were born with their disabilities, but Zoey’s story is different. “When she was three weeks old,” Zoey’s mother explains, “we were hit by a drunk driver. And she got brain damage.”
Despite the tragic accident, Zoey’s mother does not seem bitter. “I just thank the Lord she’s alive,” she says. “She’s the only princess I’ve got.”
The excitement of Challenge Day quickly took its toll on Zoey. She became tearful and even balked at participating in the events she had practiced so long for. Finally, her mother wheeled her into a quiet hallway. She sat in Zoey’s wheelchair and rocked her in her lap, whispering to her and wiping away her tears.
The loving support that Zoey’s whole family demonstrated made an impact on Lindsay, who says, “I’ve never seen as good of an example of how school and parent and kid work together. They didn’t see her as an object. They saw her as their daughter . . . They still were striving to develop her as a person.”
Impact for Eternity
More than 100 students from Washington Center visit Bob Jones University for Challenge Day each year. It is an exciting day not only for them, but also for the hundreds of BJU students—education majors; health, fitness and recreation majors; and communication disorders majors—that participate as well.
For some university students who have had little opportunity to interact with special needs children before, the day may seem daunting at first. However, as the students interact with the Washington Center athletes and their families, they quickly realize the value of the day.
“Disabilities are just a definition when you learn about them in class,” Lindsay comments, “[but] with Washington Center Day, you spend that concentrated 2-4 hours just getting to know that person. It’s just eye-opening.”
Ciara Weant, a special education major and another of Zoey’s helpers, says, “Being involved in these children’s and [their] families’ lives is a great opportunity to share Christ’s unconditional love. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Washington Center Challenge Day.”
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Published October 15, 2012