Lauren Sinopoli, a current senior at Westlake High School, was motivated to take her passion for soccer and translate it to meet a community need. She noticed that her local recreational programs did not offer sports-related activities for children with special needs, and immediately found the inspiration for her Gold Award project. Hoping to establish a higher motivation for sports camps for all children, Lauren created a sports workshop within a free summer day camp to teach soccer, kickball, and water games.
When asked about the root cause of the issue her project addressed, Lauren said, “The kids could not successfully participate in athletic events due to minimal opportunities that are catered by the recreational departments. Exercising and interacting with other children is essential for the development of a child’s brain. More specifically, these children grow cognitively in an environment where sports options are provided with patient instructors, but unfortunately, this was not being administered in my community.”
Lauren’s workshop was distributed over three days to better align with short attention spans. With a target audience of children with special needs in grades K-5, Lauren led activities each day for a rotation of 30 minutes. In soccer on Day 1 of the workshop, kids learned basic skills including how to dribble, shoot, and pass. These kicking skills and new confidence were applied on Day 2 during the kickball workshop. On Day 3, kids gained both fun memories and new friendships during water games.
“Every child has a unique personality that deserves an opportunity to be broadcasted through sports and friendships.” – Lauren Sinopoli
Lauren used the importance of teamwork as a common thread throughout her teaching and focused on topics such as patience, social and sensory skills, coordination, creativity, and positivity. The workshop ran smoothly with the help of a few of her friends as volunteers. Additionally, she was able to prepare ahead for any behavioral outbursts by setting up a “chill zone” filled with sensory objects such as toys, balls, bubbles, and more for children to enjoy and decompress. In total, 25 children attended Lauren’s workshop.
“I learned that I have a huge passion for helping the dismissed people on the borders of society,” Lauren said. “This project encouraged my newly realized desire to aid the marginalized, in addition to future career paths. Because I had to lead a group of individuals in such a way that the workshop would remain coordinated, I gained leadership skills with my planning. I learned that being a leader is about becoming reliable and innovative. I had to think outside of the box when plans fell through or did not go as planned. I learned how to stick to a budget and follow through with it, and developed my communication skills by corresponding with other adults and organizations.”
Parents of the children who attended the program were enthusiastic about the results, with one individual telling Lauren, “I love the kind hearts in caring for and interacting with my daughters and making them feel included and part of something, giving them the opportunity to have a sports workshop.” Another parent stated, “My favorite aspect was that all the kids were like her. They were all different and all had their needs but they were treated all the same.”
In the hope to guide others in similar ventures, Lauren created a digital handbook detailing her project and sent it to other Girl Scout councils all across the country. The handbook illustrates what she did during each workshop, her successes and obstacles, what she learned, and the issue of the lack of special needs programming on a national scale.