Volunteer Spotlight - Melissa Branconnier

Volunteer Spotlight - Melissa Branconnier: Norman Region

How long have you been involved with SOM and in what capacity?

I got involved in 2018 as a parent of a child with a disability. I attended a committee meeting and took a position as Regional Coordinator and Secretary, as well as my role as a family admin.  

How did you hear about SOM? Who encouraged you to join as a volunteer?

I was volunteering for the Thompson Winter Games in 2018 and struck up a conversation in passing with the SOM coach for Alpine Skiing. I was telling this person how difficult it is for my son to join a lot of the sports his neuro-typical peers join due to his specific needs. This is when I found out that SO was active in the community and had programming that my son could join. 

How has your experience been so far?

It has had some challenges. There is a limited volunteer base and so the availability of program variety is limited. My son is also the only child under 17 registered from the region so there is limited opportunity for him to interact with people in his age group. All other programming offered is primarily for adults. But the quality of programming that my son receives has been wonderful – he gets one on one coaching in a sport that he wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to participate in as neither myself or his father have any skill in alpine skiing.   

What was life like before Declan joined Special Olympics?

This is a tough one to answer. Declan is a young child, so I can’t say there has been a large change from before SO to after SO as Declan is still part of the school system and has other social programs in place. What I can say is that SO has provided my son with the opportunity to gain expertise in an organized sport that he wouldn’t have had otherwise, and that we hope that as he gets older this will open up opportunities for him to travel, meet other athletes who have had a common experience to him, and otherwise gain confidence in his abilities that comes from gaining expertise within his sport. So, doesn’t represent a big change in his life currently but rather a big change in his opportunities for the future. 

What has been the biggest difference you have noticed in Declan and in your life since joining Special Olympics?

The biggest difference I’ve noticed with Declan has been his willingness to try new things – even when they are scary. He is building confidence in his belief that he CAN do things and to not give up even when he can’t control his environment.    Since in-person programs have shut down, what have you and your family been doing to stay active?We have been lucky that Declan’s sport is outdoors’s and one-on-one, so he is still able to participle and be active during the pandemic. We have also utilized outdoor skating rinks, walking trails, sliding, and of course the many opportunities to shovel snow that we have during winter in the north! 

Why should other parents/caregivers have their children join Special Olympics?

I think the biggest reason to join is that the world was built for, and caters to, people who don’t face the same challenges that people with disabilities face. Special Olympics represents a community where people are provided with supports, so that they can build a sense of confidence and achievement that people without disabilities have access to through traditional sports/programming/spaces. Special Olympics removes the barriers and allows people to explore and build their unique talents and skills within a social community of peers that would be very difficult to achieve organically within traditional systems and structures.