One Team participants bringing out a challenge for journalists 0

The holiday season became quite a bit more exciting for the participants of the Zalgiris’ One Team social responsibility program. The EuroLeague initiated program had the young participants running the activity in Zalgiris’ practice facility themselves for members of the media and representatives of the sponsors of the event, Ramirent.

This season, Zalgiris has been working with the Special Olympics organization, that encourages people with learning disabilities to take up sport. One of the greatest challenges for a lot of the participants was speaking to strangers and publicly.

The heart of the One Team program is the development of socially sensitive communities through the game of basketball. Thus the eleventh group meeting became an exam of sorts for the participants, as they not only took in strangers to their ranks, but were the ones running the teamwork, support and leadership activities themselves.

For example, One Team participant Agne is only one of two girls taking part in the program. She doesn’t encounter any problems in the games with a basketball, since she loves playing both football and basketball in her free time. With the encouragement of her friends, Agne took upon herself to lead the activity for the program guests. A couple weeks ago, she was lucky to be chosen to tip off the game between Zalgiris and Valencia Basket. To Agne, going up in front of 15 thousand people required the same amount of effort to beat stress, as did running the activities.

Another participant in the project, Justas, also faced the challenge.

“I was one of the volunteers who had to lead an activity. 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.

“To be honest, I was nervous before, thinking how nervous the children themselves might be, but it was a great atmosphere. Those good emotions pass on to 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. I even feel like I might have made an impact on his career of choice, as we talked and discussed it a lot.”

Integration of people with disabilities into society is still a very sore topic in Lithuania. Usually, it’s a barrier created from both sides, as people with learning disabilities communicate in a closed circle, feeling forgotten by the society, but also don’t know how to, or are too shy to talk to strangers. On the other hand, people are not too keen on taking in somebody that is different, they are afraid to come and talk to them, don’t know how to act, and simply avoid them.

One of the participants of the project, Mantas spoke about what the One Team activities have 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 don’t know the people. Now, even when I’m in a strange environment, I feel braver, I would now know how to communicate, what to say, what not to say.”

As if to reiterate Mantas’ words, editor-in-chief Jonas Miklovas talked about communicating with the children.

“I really enjoyed it. They told us the children are afraid to talk, but somebody really lied to us, because they have so much to tell and I feel like I’ve spent a great afternoon. 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 gotta get over, fall and then get back up.”

Zalgiris has been running the program for seven years now, and for three of the last seasons, socially responsible company Ramirent has been a partner of the program. Before this season, Zalgiris worked with youth that is more likely to take up crime, trying to instill values, highlighting the higher goals in life. Having started working with youth with learning disabilities, the program was adjusted, but the idea remained intact – encouraging the participants to aim for the highest of goals. Hand in hand to it is the problem of integration to society.