Students volunteer for local Alpine Games

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The Appalachian Online

Madison Barlow

While some students at Appalachian may spend their time volunteering at the humane society or food banks, junior psychology major Brianna Brooks spends her time serving in another way.

Brooks is a member of Appvocates, a new organization on campus geared toward working with the Scholars with Diverse Abilities program, or SDA.

“The club was unofficially started during the spring semester of last year, but we were officially recognized as a club on campus this past fall,” Brooks said. “The club was started as a way for the student volunteers who worked with the SDA program to communicate and work together more efficiently.”

Brooks said her reasoning for volunteering through Appvocates comes from wanting to work with people with disabilities in the future.

“I want to be a therapist who works with children post-graduation,” Brooks said. “I know that there will be a wide range of abilities in the students that I plan to work with. That’s why I’m working with older students with a wide range of abilities now.”

Brooks and other Appvocates members’ next volunteer experience will be this upcoming Sunday, Monday and Tuesday when they partner with the Watauga chapter of the North Carolina Special Olympics organization.

Keron Poteat, local program coordinator for the Watauga chapter of the Special Olympics, said the chapter is preparing for their upcoming annual Southeast Region Alpine Games.

“The games will be held over a three-day period at App Ski Mountain,” Poteat said. “There will be about 150 participants from all over the Southeast including Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.”

The events offered for participants include downhill slalom skiing and snowboard racing, with a variety of different skill levels. Poteat said this particular event is fun for participants because it so different from the traditional Special Olympics setting.

“Because this event does involve snow and sports that could be considered extreme, it’s really special for the participants,” Poteat said. “It’s definitely special for the volunteers, too. I think if you asked any volunteer they’d attest that it’s an awesome feeling getting to share in the lives of our participants.”

The Appvocates club is not the only club involved in the Alpine Games this year. Kelsey Triplett, president of the Student Council for Exceptional Children and junior special education major, said her organization is also volunteering.

“I’m actually a member of Appvocates as well as Student Council for Exceptional Children,” Triplett said. “I presented it to the other members of the [SCEC], and we decided to contact Keron for more information.”

Triplett said she believes volunteering for Special Olympics events is beneficial in bridging the gap that exists among those with disabilities and those without.

“People don’t realize that there are actually more similarities than differences between people who have disabilities and those who don’t,” she said. “As a volunteer, it is an awesome feeling to be involved. The kids are so gracious. It makes you smile to see them smile. Just because a person has mental or physical handicaps, doesn’t mean they are necessarily disabled.”

While Appvocates and the SCEC are the only two student organizations on campus directly involved with the Watauga Special Olympics, the ASU Police Department faculty is also active within the organization.

Chief of Police Gunther Doerr said he and his team pair up with other Watauga law enforcement to host the Polar Plunge fundraiser for the Watauga Special Olympics each year.

This year’s Polar Plunge will take place at Duck Pond on Feb. 19.

“About 12 years ago, all of the Watauga law enforcement decided that we were going to start the Polar Plunge fundraiser,” Doerr said. “It was brought to our attention that the Watauga chapter of the Special Olympics wasn’t getting nearly enough money from other charity events. So, we decided we would create an event to solely benefit our local Watauga chapter.”

For $25 per person individually, or for $20 per person in a group, participants may take the plunge in to Duck Pond. All proceeds go to the Watauga Special Olympics. Last year the event raised $8,009 for the organization.

“It’s really a great event,” Doerr said. “The event starts with the ROTC doing a tactical rope cross, followed by all of the plungers. Everyone who plunges gets an event towel, and we also have tents set up where participants can warm up. I encourage everyone who wants to be challenged in a new way while giving to an excellent, rewarding cause to come out and see what it’s all about.”

Story: Madison Barlow, Intern News Reporter