Lions Club Partners with Special Olympics

Lions Clubs International is the Global Partner of Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes®

History of Support

In 2001, the Lions Clubs International Foundation awarded Special Olympics the first grant in a multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment. Since then, the foundation has given more than $1 million each year. Together, these two organizations work to bring proper eye care to Special Olympics athletes around the globe through the Healthy Athletes Opening Eyes program.
The commitment is more than just financial. Lions Clubs has supported the Opening Eyes program with thousands of volunteers from more than 80 countries. Lions play a crucial volunteer role, assisting with registration, color vision testing, visual acuity tests and distribution of glasses and protective sports goggles. In some cases, members also conduct some of the actual vision tests.

The Birth of Special Olympics and the Kennedys

Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed in justice. But, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she saw little justice in the way people with intellectual disabilities were treated. She saw they were excluded and routinely placed in custodial institutions. They were often ignored and neglected, yet she knew they had many talents and gifts to offer.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver had a sister, Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. She and Rosemary grew up playing sports together and with their family. The sisters swam, they sailed, they skiied, they played football together. But in those days, there were limited programs and options for someone like Rosemary.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver went on to become an athlete in college. She began to see that sports could be a common ground to unite people from all walks of life. 

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics, was a pioneer in the worldwide struggle for rights and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities.

Camp Shriver, the Birth of the Special Olympics

Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed that if people with intellectual disabilities were given the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else, they could accomplish far more than anyone ever thought possible.

She put that vision into action in 1962 by inviting young people with intellectual disabilities to a summer day camp she hosted in her backyard. She called it "Camp Shriver." The goal was to explore the children's skills in a variety of sports and physical activities. The idea behind that first Camp Shriver began to grow. In July 1968, the first International Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Learn more about the events leading up to the founding of Special Olympics.

In her remarks at the Opening Ceremony, she said the inaugural Chicago Special Olympics prove "a very fundamental fact” -- that children with intellectual disabilities can be exceptional athletes and that "through sports they can realize their potential for growth.” She pledged that this new organization, Special Olympics, would offer people with intellectual disabilities everywhere “the chance to play, the chance to compete and the chance to grow.”

What began as one woman's vision evolved into Special Olympics International -- a global movement that today serves more than 4 million people with intellectual disabilities in more than 170 countries.

About Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Eunice Mary Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, USA, on 10 July 1921, the fifth of nine children of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.

She received a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Following graduation, she worked for the U.S. State Department in the Special War Problems Division. In 1950, she became a social worker at the Penitentiary for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, and the following year she moved to Chicago to work with the House of the Good Shepherd and the Chicago Juvenile Court.

On 23 May 1953, Eunice Kennedy married Robert Sargent Shriver, and in 1957, she took over the direction of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation.

The Foundation was established in 1946 as a memorial to Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. – the family's eldest son, who was killed in World War II. The Foundation has two major objectives: to seek the prevention of intellectual disability by identifying its causes, and to improve the means by which society deals with citizens who have intellectual disabilities.



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Lions Clubs in the 21st Century by Paul Martin & Robert Kleinfelder

This is the story of a special type of men and women, those who seek to return to society a portion of the good fortune they have earned and received in their own lives. They are called Lions and, since 1917, have actively engaged in constructing an organization that has evolved into one of the world's most powerful forces for humanitarian progress: The International Association of Lions Clubs. It is today comprised of nearly 1.3 million members in over 45,000 Lions clubs active in 202 lands spanning the globe. They speak scores of languages and represent diversified cultures. In spirit, however, they speak a common language, the language of voluntary service, responding to an inner drive to answer human needs and to improve living conditions in their own communities and the world community.


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