Over 700 young adults of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints volunteered at the Special Olympics World Games 2023 in Berlin, Germany, June 16-25.
The young adults — who represented 48 countries and ranged from 18 to 35 years old — were the largest volunteer group at the Special Olympics, according to a news release on ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
They volunteered as part of a service conference sponsored by the Church in Europe. Participants included members and friends of the Church.
“This is the first time that I see such a large group of young adults doing something so good, so enjoyable and so strong, not just as a Church but open to the world, together with and for the community,” said Elder Massimo De Feo, a General Authority Seventy serving as president of the Church’s Europe Central Area, at the service conference.
“This is something we should do more and more in the future. As we serve in the community, we help, just like Jesus Christ did, and therefore, we feel that we can become more like Him, and our nature is changed.”
How the Berlin service conference started
The Special Olympics World Games is the world’s largest inclusive sporting event, with some 7,000 athletes with disabilities competing in 26 disciplines. Over 12,000 volunteers from around the world assisted in the 2023 games.
Collaboration with the Special Olympics organization began with a simple outreach by Elder Robert Swift, a senior missionary who had worked for 45 years as a physical education teacher for children with special needs.
“I wanted to do something similar while on my mission in Berlin and discovered online that the Special Olympics reach out for volunteers. We told them that we have many young adults who would love to serve the community and volunteer at the Games,” Elder Swift said.
Word spread quickly among young adults in Europe. The Europe Central Area presidency decided to sponsor a service conference around the Special Olympics to provide young adults an opportunity to show love for God by helping others and foster unity and belonging.
What the service conference looked like
The Church in Europe provided accommodation and food while the Special Olympics organization provided public transportation, shuttle services, volunteer equipment, training and assignments to over 21 volunteer roles. Volunteers could either participate over a five-day period or the full 10 days.
All participants first registered as volunteers at the Special Olympics. Volunteer shifts occurred at the eight official Olympic venues across Berlin throughout the day. In the evenings, the Church organized social events — including dances, a beach party, open-air cinema and karaoke — and large worship services on Sunday.
“Collaborating with large groups like the Church of Jesus Christ is a nice experience, for the groups and for us,” said Oliver Büttel, Special Olympics volunteer manager. “Groups always stick together and are helpful because they are reliable and trustworthy. They carry a big part in the volunteering experience. We hope that through the help of the Church, awareness for inclusion in society will increase, not only because of the importance of the topic itself, but also the size and need of this relevant multi-sport event.”
What young adults said about the Special Olympics
Liv Jakobi, a young adult from Germany, related the game of volleyball to working with other volunteers: “It’s not just a one-on-one game; you have to work together as a team to achieve the goal. And it’s the same thing at this huge conference. We all work together hand in hand.”
Dan Winkler from Germany and Tabita Aversa from Brazil were two of the young adults on the service conference’s organizing team. All elements of the conference, Aversa said, were focused on helping others.
“I hope that everyone felt the love which God has for all of His children,” Aversa said. “This love motivated me to help out with this conference and I hope that everyone felt the same, through their time together and doing something good for others.”
Winkler added: “My hope is that all participants felt that special spirit of service and share it with others in the world. This can then become something much bigger than only a good memory of a conference, but even a movement that unites us, across all borders, with everyone around us.”