The Atlas Programme offered a new challenge to Irish Special Olympic athletes to participate as volunteers during the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games. Anne McCarthy, Research Officer, Stewarts’ Hospital Dublin 20 Pauline Collins, Manager, Atlas Programme, 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games Ltd., Dublin 7


All the Irish Special Olympics athletes who were not selected to compete at the World Games sporting events had a great opportunity to take part in one of the large variety of services that support the games.

Each ATLAS volunteer worked for the duration of the Games with his/her mentor (personal assistant) in an inclusive and integrated way with other volunteers on Team 2003. This programme provided a forum for positive social interaction and learning between team mates. It also increased public knowledge and understanding of the qualities and capabilities of people with intellectual disability. The kernel of the ATLAS training was to carry out a variety of tasks as part of a team. However, the experience of being a team member in the various work groups is different from belonging to a team that hopes to win medals.

ATLAS participants shared a variety of skills in many areas of the World Summer Games, including hospitality, merchandising, catering, family services, sport and competition, and information services.

The ATLAS training programme got off to an enthusiastic start on Saturday 8 February in Kevin Street DIT. It was a huge learning day for both participants and trainers. Over 130 came from all over the country to take part. The training programme included the following:

  • Learning about Special Olympics and the 2003 World Games
  • Learning about other cultures
  • Understanding how to provide good costumer service
  • Working as part of a team
  • Developing self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Learning additional skills in public speaking
  • Developing the role of an ambassador
  • Job-specific skills.

The ATLAS volunteers shared their experiences of Special Olympics, of learning about volunteering and having fun through teamwork experiences. These experiences were very creatively expressed through colourful collages, photos, poems and posters.

The preparation team, representing a variety of organisations, had planned well. The facilitators on the day worked hard and succeeded in creating a day of friendship, cooperation and true teamwork for all concerned.

Volunteering was a completely new experience for many of the former athletes and multiple medal winners involved in the ATLAS programme. Their willingness to help others, share the feeling and be part of Team 2003, made this training day special. They gave ‘having fun’, ‘meeting people’ and ‘being part of 2003 World Games’ as their reasons for applying to be part of the ATLAS programme.

Monitoring and support

Support is an in-built component of the ATLAS programme. It is essential that the athlete (ATLAS volunteer) is supported by their mentor, by their team and by the Games Organising Committee (GOC). Mentors are often siblings or parents and are chosen by the Athlete. The support model envisaged at games-time is a spiralling system:

  • Both athlete and mentor have one-to-one support from each another.
  • Both in turn are part of the larger team of volunteers.
  • The volunteer team is supported by a Team Coordinator.
  • The Team Coordinator who has ATLAS participants assigned to their team is supported by the Cluster ATLAS Support Team.
  • This Cluster Team is supported and is accountable to the ATLAS Manager.
The programme

The ATLAS programme facilitated 200 ATLAS volunteers (100 athletes accompanied by 100 mentors). There were 140 ATLAS volunteers in the programme. There were 116 assigned to various Dublin venues, with 24 assigned to Kings Hall, Belfast. The ATLAS committee is to evaluate the programme following the Summer Games. This evaluation will hopefully demonstrate the versatility and excellent team-member skills of all concerned and give the initiative for further mainstream participation by all our fellow citizens with intellectual disabilities.

The final word goes to Susan Murray—ATLAS Volunteer, 2003 World Games.

I became a volunteer of Special Olympics 2003 last year.
When I found out I was accepted I cried the odd tear.
The excitement of being part of something new like this
Will make me feel good in myself-
So please God I will be doing lots of things
Like being around for people
And washing delph.
Just thinking of the title ‘Special Olympics’
Brings music to my ears.
So I know I will enjoy this experience and have happy
Memories for many a long year.
Support from my mentor will help me give the job my all.
Even more, being a volunteer means a big challenge and the
Chance to view beyond unopened doors.
(Susan Murray-February 2003.)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here