During the 2016 Global Symposium on Overcoming Social Isolation and Deepening Social Connectedness, we had the opportunity to connect with many individuals including youth, Indigenous Elders, practitioners and other professionals who shared their insights, experiences and strategies in overcoming social isolation to accelerate a global movement of unity and inclusiveness within their communities.
We spoke with Andrea Cahn who leads the Inclusive Sports and Youth Leadership program in her role as the Senior Director of the Unified Champion Schools for Special Olympics. In this U.S.-based program, students “with and without intellectual difficulties play sports together on the same teams.” With this unique strategy, the students who exhibit disabilities are happy for the opportunity to be part of their school and feel included in their community. Similarly, students without intellectual difficulties revealed to Andrea that before they participated in the program, they didn’t know what to expect, and were sometimes afraid. Now, she says, they have made friends for life.
What this program has brought to light for Andrea and her team is that if students feel that social inclusion and acceptance are the norm at their school, then they take that norm into their lives and neighbourhoods, and “they expect people to be included, and when they’re not, they will do something about it.” The program helps to build an overall lifestyle of inclusion and tolerance.
“The bottom line is: we have amazing stories of impact,” Andrea declares. “We are having an impact on social-emotional skills, on confidence, on team-building, on the knowledge that you can make a difference on your school and your community.”
Andrea believes that, as an evidence-based society, we have to be able to make the case for the social connectedness movement universally. One of the ways to strengthen this movement is to reach out to key influencers, and she recognizes that to get these influencers to pay attention and truly understand the importance of social inclusion, a demonstration of impact is required. According to Andrea, the symposium is one of the major ways in which to bring together many voices to share these impact stories and recognize the “simplicity of collaborative decision-making” in building community and pushing forward the social connectedness movement.
Watch the full interview with Andrea Cahn below. You can also access this interview and the others conducted by visiting the Social Connectedness YouTube channel.