Bringing everyone together

Bringing everyone together

High school senior coordinating ball for Unified Sports

NORTH SMITHFIELD - Scrolling through her neatly-arranged binder, Alyssa Deslauriers instantly locates accurate information to answer questions.

"I have to be well organized for this project or I'll be in trouble," the 17-year-old North Smithfield High School senior said. "There's just a lot of detail."

That's what's accumulated when you're piecing together a formal ball for 400 like the one the daughter of Robert and Karen Deslauriers is planning for the Unified Sports Program. Unified Sports is a program initiated in Rhode Island by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League and Special Olympics Rhode Island. It brings together mainstream and handicapped students who play together on volleyball and basketball teams.

The program is designed to provide a better understanding among students, and it works. The program has grown from an initial six schools four years ago to 34 taking part today.

North Smithfield High, where Deslauriers serves as Student Council president, is a member of the cross country team, the chamber choir, and is the student representative to the town Safety Committee. She is also a member of the Unified Sports program, sings in the choir at St. John's Church, and in her spare moments works part-time at Brigido's Market.

"I thought getting involved in the Unified Program would be beneficial and help me gain a better understanding of what these challenged students face," said Deslauriers. "Last year, there was a small year-end gathering for the program in Portsmouth for the challenged and mainstream students, and I thought there should be something for the entire program.

Fortunately, we have to complete a senior project as a high school gradation requirement, and that has given me the opportunity to pursue this."

The formal event will be held on April 17 from 6 to 11 p.m. at the West Valley Inn in West Warwick, and it won't cost participants a penny.

Deslauriers began the effort in summer and turned to several resources for assistance.

She attended a state student committee meeting and outlined her plan, contacted Special Olympics and enlisted the support of the North Smithfield Athletic Association.

NSAA officials, who helped bankroll the North Smithfield School Department athletic budget by raising more than $120,000 in a single year two years ago, agreed to serve as Deslauriers' mentor, and she has worked closely with Bill Nangle, NSAA president, to cobble together a plan.

Athletic Director Matt Tek stepped up and began contacting all of the athletic directors throughout the state where Unified Sports has been embraced, and Deslauriers has made numerous telephone calls to Unified Sports leaders throughout the state trying to get the word out.

She has also been in contact with numerous organizations and businesses eliciting support for the event, which carries a price tag of slightly less than $12,000.

NSAA stepped up with a $1,000 donation, a town company, Nine Designs, has agreed to provide invitations at no cost, Jerry Dandeneau of the Special Olympics committee got the word out to all of his contacts throughout the state, the National Marker Company, located in North Smithfield, added $1,000 to the effort.

"I think we can get there," said Deslauriers. "The interest seems to be high in support of this effort, and any contributions are tax-deductible because one of the first things I did was file the appropriate paperwork with the state as a nonprofit."

When they learned about the event, officials of Anthony's Formal Wear of Cranston stepped up and is offering the rental of tuxedos for $60 each, about half the normal cost. In addition, 10 percent of each rental will be donated to the event.

"We're going to have a carnival theme, and the people at West Valley Inn have been working with us to develop a menu featuring carnival food," said Deslauriers. "We're also looking for a popcorn machine and a cotton candy machine if someone would allow us to use them. Stack Nine has donated a photo booth and we plan on having face painting."

Still needed is a disc jockey, and although the need for adult chaperones has been adequately filled by parents and volunteers, Deslauriers is hoping that police officials will step up to provide mandatory security as a donation.

Interest is also high among the schools in the Unified Program. Already more than 10 have expressed an intent to participate and will send huge delegations.

"After being involved with Unified Sports, I feel I have a better understanding of more people and the challenges they face," said Deslauriers. "We're all equals on certain levels and everyone should have an opportunity to be successful. That's what this program does. I'm passionate about it."

Deslauriers has been accepted to several post-secondary institutions of learning, and has chosen to attend Auburn University in Alabama, where she intends to major in political science. She has already spoken to high school underclassmen who have expressed an interest in taking on the state ball next year.

"I'm advising them to work in a group, because it's a huge job for just one person," she said.

Anyone wanting to assist can send a tax-deductible contribution made out to NSAA with "Unity Ball" written in the memo line, and mail it to Alyssa Deslauriers at North Smithfield High School, 412 Greenville Road, North Smithfield, RI 02896.

For more information, contact Deslauriers at alyd247@gmail.com .