By: USA Games Correspondent, Tynan Gable
If you ever doubt that one person can change the world, this week’s game changer will reassure you. Alicia Jory lights up and unites her community with her enthusiasm for all that she does. She is tirelessly spirited and passionate; these qualities make her a perfect candidate for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games’ #ImAGameChanger campaign.
Alicia is the Director of Sports and Recreation at an organization called the Friendship Home in Delaware County, Oklahoma. The Friendship Home seeks to provide residential services, occupational training and preparation services, and community involvement opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Alicia’s mother, Cathy, helped get the Friendship Home started and got Alicia and her brother Rob involved. Today, one of Alicia’s personal goals for the residents is to get them involved in as many community events as possible.
Alicia’s contagious eagerness has inspired many of the Friendship Home workers, who have become personally invested in helping the residents. In fact, a majority of them don’t consider this to be a job at all; they have become a family at the Home, especially because many of the residents do not get to see their families often.
An amazing shift happened in which the staff members and volunteers became willing to go the extra mile because it now feels natural for them to do so. These extra efforts on behalf of Alicia and the staff include hosting birthday parties for the residents and planning community involvement programs. According to Walter Crane, the long-time family friend of Alicia’s who nominated her for recognition in the #ImAGameChanger campaign, “the work she does with the Friendship Home is her life, not just an eight to five job. It’s something she was born to do, and she’s constantly involved with and doing stuff for it.”
Walter met Alicia growing up. He and Alicia’s brother were the same age and attended rival high schools. In 2013, after years of watching her work from afar, Walter agreed to get involved in some of her endeavors, particularly her work that extends beyond the Friendship Home. Alicia has been involved with Special Olympics for many years. Currently, she manages the three softball teams of Delaware County. When she recruited Walt as a partner, he had no idea that she was changing the game for him as well.
“My expectations of being a partner when I got involved were not even close to what happened,” he said. “I thought we would teach the players the rules and how to play, but I didn’t realize that we would be responsible for giving these athletes such life-changing opportunities.”
While the teams are separated according to skill level, Alicia feels as though all the players deserve to maximize their experience as a member of her team. Because of this philosophy, Alicia ensures that all of her softball teams attend two to three tournaments per year plus the annual state-level Special Olympics. And not only do her teams attend, but they thrive.
Alicia’s credentials as a Special Olympics softball coach are many, and she takes great pride in these achievements as she strives to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a past coach in the Special Olympics USA Games. To date, Alicia has coached a total of 11 Special Olympic State Champion Softball Teams composed of members with a wide range of intellectual disabilities. Two of these teams went on to be national runners-up, and two others have been national champions.
These opportunities to travel, play, and succeed would not be possible if it weren’t for Alicia working tirelessly to raise funds to support the teams’ travel experiences. These trips are particularly special for some of the players, who often have never strayed far from their hometown or flown in an airplane. Because of this, the softball experience is something much bigger for the players on Alicia’s teams.
Another really cool thing is that recently the environment on the teams and in the community has become that of a family atmosphere. Alicia’s energy has spread beyond just the players to where their entire community follows the team’s success. In fact, they will be doing send-offs before the players of the top team and Alicia depart for Seattle and the 2018 USA Games this summer.
Reflecting on his experiences thus far, Walter finds it obvious that Alicia truly is changing the game for the softball players and Friendship Home residents. In addition, she has changed the game for the staff and volunteers like him, who have a more inclusive and open perspective thanks to Alicia’s hard work.
“She goes above and beyond to make sure that every athlete can enjoy their experiences to the max,” Walter said. “Alicia gives off a welcoming vibe that makes all the people she works with really want to be around her. It is truly inspiring how much everyone looks up to her.”