Success Stories: Young Olympians of Champaign County

Young Olympians of Champaign County is an Olympic-themed youth and community development program that uses physical and cultural activities to instill Olympic and Paralympic values (such as friendship, determination, courage and equality) in local youth. The program is a partnership between Play for Change (a student group at the University that uses recreation, sport and tourism for social change) and the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club.

University students were inspired to create the program after a contingent of students and professors visited the site of the ancient Olympics and participated in the Olympism4Humanity Summit at the International Olympic Academy in Olympia, Greece, in the summer of 2014. The program launched in the spring of 2015 with a five-week pilot involving third- through fifth-grade youth. Twice a week after school, University students led the youth in physical and cultural activities and special events designed to help them learn about Olympic and Paralympic values. In addition, the program was designed to teach participants about the county’s numerous ties to the Olympic movement (more than 40 Olympians and Paralympians have hailed from the county), engage older youth as program leaders and generate personal and community development. Highlights of the program included playing broomball at the Ice Arena on campus (to learn about courage), engaging in a hands-on demonstration with the university’s wheelchair basketball team (to learn about determination), visiting the Tribute to Olympic and Paralympic Athletes at Dodds Park in Champaign (to learn about friendship) and participating in a closing ceremony with family members (to learn about equality).

The program offered University students opportunities to apply concepts learned in class to real world cases as they designed, implemented, and evaluated the program. In addition, University students helped provide the Boys & Girls Club, located in a socioeconomically challenged area of north Champaign, with volunteers and programming. In order to measure the effectiveness of the program, a pre/post survey and post-focus group interviews with participants were conducted. Preliminary findings indicated that there was positive change in participants’ attitudes and behaviors across the four values. Based on this evaluation, Play for Change and the Boys & Girls Club are now preparing for the 2016 spring program.