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State Honoree

Jennifer LaBerge

Vermont

Jennifer LA Berge, 16, of Middlebury Union High School in Middlebury, Vermont, was inspired by her mentally retarded sister to volunteer as head coach for a Special Olympics swim team. It's been six years since Jen first felt the desire to help athletes like her sister in a program that she says builds so much self-esteem among its participants. "Special Olympics has enlightened me to the fact that our society is extremely cruel to people who are different," said Jen. She dedicates hours, and has given every single Saturday morning for the past seven years during the spring season practicing with the athletes and working with them on their swimming skills. When swimming season is over, Jen volunteers with other Special Olympics sports including bowling and soccer, and has recruited many of her friends to join the program as well. "The benefits to volunteering with Special Olympics are the hugs and smiles on the faces of the athletes -that makes it all worthwhile," Jen said.