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 one of the youth participants, Joe Pignatelli Jr., a Special Olympic athlete and basketball-lover from New York. Basketball is more than just a sport for Joe: it has helped him overcome his challenges and find a sense of belonging. According to him, before basketball became a part of Joe’s life, he was “always negative, angry…[I] didn’t have many friends and wasn’t very nice.”
Joe is a participant of the Unified Sports basketball program, and his story was also highlighted by Social Connectedness last year, as the unique program brings together Special Olympics athletes and partners for the purpose of friendly competition and participation. The concept is simple and effective: “training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.” For Joe, the results mean so much more than an hour of exercise. “With the non-disability and the disability students working together, making that connection, that strong bond…it’s very important and it’s key in Unified and in the world.”
Sports teams are a great vehicle for social connectedness and at the heart of many recreational teams, Unified included, opportunities for total inclusion and acceptance are created. To Joe, this sense of belonging is what it’s all about: “It makes me feel like you’re part of something, whether it be the handshakes or the high-fives at the end of the game.” Hey, who doesn’t feel great after a good high-five?
Watch the full interview with Joe Pignatelli Jr. below. You can also access this interview and the others conducted by visiting the Social Connectedness YouTube channel.