LIHUE — Used to be, Kapaa High School senior Alicia Gilbert had plans to pursue a career in nursing after graduation.
But those plans changed last year after Gilbert became involved with Kapaa High School’s Project Unify Club, a nationwide youth leadership group involved with Special Olympics in schools.
“I think that just seeing how happy the kids are here makes me want to stay,” said Gilbert, president for Kapaa High School’s Project Unify Club. “Making them happy makes me happy — that’s what is motivating me the whole time. I’m actually pursuing a career in special education just because of this project.”
Many of those involved in the clubs at Kauai and Kapaa High Schools, which include a mix of those students with and without disabilities, say the program encourages students to participate in sports throughout the school year like bowling, track and field and swimming, and broadens their horizons by introducing them to new people.
“The most rewarding part for me is meeting and making so many new friends,” Gilbert said. “I’ve never became so close to people so fast.”
The camaraderie continued on Sunday as 32 Special Olympic athletes and their unified partners competed in an islandwide team bowling tournament at Kauai Bowl.
Tamarine Carvalho, a Project Unify Club coach and special education teacher at Kapaa High School, said the students participating in the tournament Sunday were vying for competition division slots in the statewide Unified Bowling Tournament on Oahu, where the athletes and their partners are grouped according to their ability level, age and gender.
“This is a really big thing,” Carvalho said. “The athletes are really not included in high school sports, so gives them an opportunity to play on a sports team with their regular high school peers.”
Dylan Wasano, a Special Olympics athlete from Kapaa High School, said he joined the program about three years ago and enjoys the opportunities he has to go bowling.
“I like to go bowling and just have fun,” Wasano said.
Another athlete, Kapaa High School sophomore Kristin Costa-Brum, said she began participating in her high school’s Project Unify Club in the ninth grade and enjoys helping other athletes.
“When I first joined it, I kind of did not like it, but afterwards I started liking it because it helps kids with special needs and disabilities,” Costa-Brum said. “I just like doing sports, because it’s good for my health.”
This year’s statewide Unified Bowling Tournament will be held on Nov. 23 at Hickam Air Force Base.
For more information on Kauai Special Olympics contact Jocelyn Barriga at 652-8662.
For more information about the Project Unify Club contact Carvalho at 652-9847.
• Darin Moriki, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0428 or firstname.lastname@example.org.