Every Upper School student participates in Special Olympics. What you may not know is that members of Interact Club assist athletes with their training in the weeks leading up to the spring games. When Joanna Papadeas ’25 and Sofia Saye ’25 were freshmen members of the Interact Club, they were both so committed to helping out at the Saturday morning practices, they caught the attention of the senior club officers who asked them to be the leaders for the 2022–23 school year.
In the weeks leading up to Special Olympics, Joanna and Sofia organized and scheduled club members to join them on the track on Saturday mornings. They, along with other club members, led the athletes in warm-up exercises and stretching and worked closely with participating schools’ coaches to help out however needed. That could mean timing the athletes as they practiced, running alongside them, helping them get to the next activity, or being there to deliver big cheers and high-fives. Working with the athletes was the easy part. The most challenging was learning how to create a Google sign-up form.
“That took some time,” laughs Joanna.
The real reward comes during the actual Spring Games in April, when Interact Club members buddy up with the same athletes they helped train.
Sofia Saye '25
Working with the Special Olympians really opens your eyes and your perspective. You build bonds with the athletes and get to know them. That makes it even more special to see them do their event, because you were part of their hard work to get there.”
“I definitely recognized the same athletes from last year. Even if they don’t always remember us, I still know I’m making a difference in their lives,” adds Joanna. “I think it’s really special that Country Day offers all students the opportunity to work with the athletes.”
Sofia and Joanna are also passionate about another Interact Club tradition—supporting people without homes in December by organizing a supply drive and providing meals. The girls plan to continue leading these endeavors through their senior year and hope to organize a few additional volunteer opportunities to support the greater Charlotte community.
“All the kids are just great and so supportive,” says Rick Gamereth, a Special Olympics volunteer track and field coach for more than 20 years. “Certain kids, like Sofia and Joanna, exhibit an impressive level of interaction. They really get to know the athletes and connect with them.”
Club advisor Paty Prieto adds, “Sofia and Joanna are true leaders and role models for the rest of the Interact members and in our community. I am very grateful to have found these amazing students.”