The holiday season became more exciting for One Team participants at Zalgiris Kaunas, who organized a special event for members of the media and representatives of the club's One Team sponsor, Ramirent.
This season Zalgiris is working with Special Olympics, which encourages people with learning disabilities to play sports. One of the greatest challenges for many of the participants is speaking in public, so their latest meeting was a big test when they not only took strangers into their ranks but were also asked to run the activities themselves.
One Team participant Agne was lucky enough to be chosen to tip off the recent game between Zalgiris and Valencia Basket, and stepping up in front of 15,000 people was a big challenge – as was running activities for the group in the latest One Team session.
Another participant in the program, Justas, also faced the challenge. "I was one of the volunteers who had to lead an activity," he said. "It wasn't very difficult, as we had already played the game before. So I went home, read the rules over and it all worked out."
The guest journalists did not hide their positive emotions either, as Kauno Diena's Zigmas Jurevicius talked about his impressions. "I was nervous before, thinking about how nervous the children themselves might be, but it was a great atmosphere. Those good feelings pass onto you when you see a smile on their faces. We shared some of our life experiences, similar situations in life, and you can see that the child gets some hope, understanding that he's not the only one going through it."
The integration of people with disabilities into society is a tough topic in Lithuania. A barrier is often created from both sides, as people with learning disabilities communicate in a closed circle, feeling forgotten by wider society and not learning how to talk to strangers. On the other hand, many people are not keen on taking in somebody who is different, feeling afraid to come and talk to them and preferring to simply avoid them.
Mantas, another participant in the project, explained what One Team has taught him: "When I first came to the activity, to a new place with nothing but strangers, I was nervous. I didn't want to talk about myself, because I didn't know the people. Now, even when I'm in a strange environment, I feel braver and I know how to communicate – what to say and what not to say."
Reiterating Mantas' words, BasketNews.lt editor-in-chief Jonas Miklovas talked about communicating with the children. "I really enjoyed it," he said. "The children were afraid to talk, but they have so much to tell and I spent a great afternoon with them. I had a chance to talk to Zygis, and I didn't even need to ask him any questions. He just talked, while I listened. I tried telling everyone that we're all the same, we are all afraid of something, worried about something. You can't think you're the only one who's afraid. We've all got fears we've got to get over, fall and then get back up."
Zalgiris has been running its One Team program for seven years now, and socially responsible company Ramirent has been a partner of the program for the last three. Before this season, Zalgiris worked young people who were more likely to take up crime and tried to instill positive values. Now working with youth with learning disabilities, the program has been adjusted but the idea remains the same: encouraging the participants to aim for the highest of goals and to integrate into society.
One Team, supported by Turkish Airlines as the One Team Founding Patron and with the collaboration of Special Olympics as Proud Partner, uses basketball to achieve meaningful social impact in our communities across Europe and is supported by every club in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup.
Since its founding in 2012, the One Team program has already helped more than 19,000 participants through its various team-focused projects.