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These youth programs transform the lives of children with intellectual disabilities

Young athletes create friendships, build confidence, and develop essential skills at Special Olympics BC – Richmond youth programs
Athletes and volunteers strike a pose at SOBC – Richmond’s FUNdamentals program. Photo via Special Olympics BC

Matthew can’t wait to have fun with friends at Special Olympics BC – Richmond’s youth program, each week.

“It’s given us a great outlet for Saturday mornings,” says Anne Cuthbert, Matthew’s mother. “He’s completely accepted and he meets friends. It gives him something to look forward to. He loves a schedule, so every Friday night he’s like, ‘gym at nine!’ He’s very excited about the next day.”

Many children with intellectual disabilities feel left behind or isolated in traditional sport and activity programs. Special Olympics gives them a place where they can belong and thrive. In the SOBC Active Start and FUNdamentals programs, which run in communities around the province, children and youth with intellectual disabilities ages two to 11 learn vital motor, sport, and social skills in a fun and welcoming environment.

Richmond resident Yuan Jiang says the FUNdamentals program has been great for her son Aaron. Aaron has found participating in traditional sport programs difficult, because it was hard for him to follow the instructions. Jiang says she’s very happy she found a place where Aaron can have fun while developing important skills.  

“He doesn’t feel successful with neurotypical kids. But with Special Olympics, he is able to do lots of things with other athletes and the same coach every week. So, his self-esteem is getting higher and higher,” Jiang says. 

“It’s a really wonderful program. Not only for self-esteem, but it helps socially with new friends — because many of the kids don’t get to meet new people a lot.”

Young athletes develop basic sport skills in a friendly, inclusive environment. Photo via Special Olympics BC

Marcus has been participating in SOBC – Richmond youth programs since he was two years old. His mother, Grace Tamkee, says they have become an important part of her family’s routine.

“It keeps Marcus active, and he’s starting to learn more about being active. I think often kids with special needs aren’t as active as other children, so for us it is very important. It also keeps him involved in a community with consistent people that he gets to know. And he feels part of something – it’s really important to him,” she says.

Tamkee says the program has helped Marcus develop confidence, which in turn has helped him in all aspects of his life. 

“Even in the school setting or new environments, he’s less shy. He will start to approach people he doesn’t really know but wants to say ‘hi’ to now. He would have never done that before. So definitely, with the growth in confidence, it has made him confident in other areas as well.” 

Tamkee says longtime SOBC – Richmond youth program facilitator Phoebe Lau has played a huge role in Marcus’ growth and success. 

“We are just so full of gratitude for all that coach Phoebe does. She comes out every week to run these excellent programs and make these individuals feel like they are all important – and they are!”

Supportive volunteers help young athletes develop self-esteem and a sense of belonging. Photo via Special Olympics BC

Tamkee strongly recommends the Active Start and FUNdamentals programs to other parents.

“Just give it a try! It’s worth a try; it’s worth the effort. I know bringing kids to these programs can feel like extra effort, but you will see so much growth in your child.”

To join a Special Olympics BC youth program as a participant or volunteer, visit