When Bryan Coffey, a 2005 Wayne Community School graduate was in his senior year of high school, he began to take notice of a separation of groups of students. From there his heart became involved in working towards a more inclusive world we live in today.

“I was in the lunchroom at Wayne High School and there was definitely a separation of students,” Coffey began. “There was a table of special education students and the rest of us were not involved. I decided to walk over and sit down at that lunch table with those students and being an athlete at Wayne I was maybe considered popular at the time. Eventually after I started sitting at that table, my friends started hanging out as well.”

“We started to have a more inclusive community throughout Wayne High School,” Coffey continued. “ I was asked by Teiko Nickell (Secondary Special Education Instructor), to help with our Special Olympics Summer Games Program.”

“It really did all begin in a lunchroom with students with disabilities and from there it just evolved for me.”

And evolve it did as Coffey began coaching Special Olympics in 2005 before becoming full-time employed in 2012 as the Director of United Programs with the Special Olympics. Recently Coffey traveled to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates as an adult mentor with Special Olympics athlete Joy Rector and her partner Evie Sly, both students in Des Moines Roosevelt High School.

The high school girls were one pair out of only six pairs selected to represent the United States at the Global Leadership Youth Summit. This summit was part of the World Games where 39 countries are involved with competitors from 108 countries.

“Our program specifically revolved around youth leadership and the goal of how we can make our communities more inclusive,” said Coffey. “When we talk about an inclusive community it is all on initiatives based on how we can get the community of our school and the community that we live in to understand, accept and embrace individuals born with intellectual disabilities.”

“When we traveled to Abu Dhabi, I was just the mentor and Joy and Evie worked on interactive leadership programs, more specifically about a project they have in place,” Coffey began. “They are trying to bring inclusion and more of an understanding into Roosevelt High School.”

“They are developing a project based on unified bowling and developing more of a unified community at Roosevelt, “ he continued. “My role in that was to help them plan and prepare for the trip, to provide guidance while we were in the county and to be sure they traveled safely as well.”

Coffey along with wife Misty (Rain), plan to involve their daughter, three-year-old Adelaide in Special Olympics as she grows older as well.

“She will be heavily involved and will probably be involved with our young athlete program which is for ages two to eight,” said Coffey. “I’m sure she will be heavily involved no question about that.”

“As long as I can be involved in the Special Olympics Program, I will continue to be,” Coffey added.

“The main thing the organization needs is the general public to understand and accept Special Olympics programs and athletes,” Coffey continued. “That is the first thing, and then to volunteer. We have across the state over 100 volunteer opportunities whether it be localized or statewide.”

Coffey works closely with Nickell and Kristy Sheriff within Wayne Community and on April 3 put on an assembly within Wayne along with co-worker Lexxi O’Brien. Both Nickell and Sheriff are heavily involved in this program within the Wayne Comunity School.

“There is a program Wayne Community Schools are a part of that is called Unified Champions Schools,” said Coffey. “The assembly will revolve around respect within the school and how students can interact more with to develop more of an inclusive community within the school.”

“I encourage anybody in the general public to pursue an understanding of the individuals we are servicing and to participate in the programs,” Coffey stated. “Whether as a volunteer or within a unified program.”

Anyone wishing to become involved as a volunteer within the Special Olympics programs, may reach out to Coffey by email at bcoffey@soiowa.org or reach him in office at (515) 986-5520.

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