University of Mount Olive Student Volunteers with Special Olympics in Greece

MOUNT OLIVE – Every once in a while, a fantastic opportunity presents itself, and you must seize the moment or regret it later.  Felicia Dracz seized her moment when the opportunity to volunteer at the World Summer Games for Special Olympics in Athens, Greece came knocking at her door this past summer.  Dracz, a senior in University of Mount Olive’s Recreational and Leisure Studies program, says her dream is to work with children who have all types of disabilities.  Her dream came true this summer.

In order to be a Special Olympics volunteer in the sport of badminton, she had to apply and compete against thousands of applicants. “It was an honor to be chosen to represent University of Mount Olive’s Recreation and Leisure Studies program.”  The Opening Ceremony was held in the same place the original games were held in 776 B.C.  According to Dracz, there were 185 different countries represented and 7,500 athletes that participated in the World Summer Games.   “I was able to meet people from all over the world, not only athletes but also volunteers.”

She felt that her recreational therapy classes helped her as a volunteer.  “In class, I learned a lot about different disabilities.  As a volunteer, I was actually able to recognize disabilities that some of the athletes had. The classes also taught me how to communicate and speak appropriately when working with children or adults.  It felt great to see success and excitement in the eyes of the athletes.  I loved helping them.”

One athlete that stuck out to Dracz was Alcino Pereira from East Timor known in his hometown as “the running man.”  “He is an example of how one athlete’s journey to the World Games opens doors for others, even in a place of conflict.”  Pereira’s father was killed in an uprising.  He was orphaned and never had access to health care and is unable to speak.  He stuck out to Dracz because of his dedication.  “He walks with a limp and has limited motion in one arm – but he loves to run. Every day he runs across his hometown of Dili in worn-out sneakers, earning him the nickname, ‘the running man.’”

Dracz, 21, says that there were striking differences, other than the people, between Athens and her hometown of Welland, Ontraio, Canada.   “Greece was very historical with lots of architecture.  Their style was fashionable and most people were friendly outside of the city.  The food was different and there were fewer options.  One of the main dishes in Greece that everyone gets is chicken souvlaki and a lot of the restaurants had outdoor seating.”

Dracz feels that her experience in Greece taught her that a smile goes a long way.  “People were giving me small gifts and exchanging pins with me because I was very friendly to everyone I met and I would always be happy. Even though being alone in a new place was hard, I continued to smile and create new friends.  I am confident that the opportunities I had in Greece helped me grow as a person, but more importantly, as a future recreation therapist.”

In addition to volunteering with Special Olympics this past summer, Dracz was also selected as one of the student scholars for the Southeast Recreational Therapeutic Symposium Conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  “She is the only Mount Olive student to ever receive this honor,” says Dr. Janet Albers, assistant professor of Recreation and Leisure Studies.  Dracz was able to meet many professionals in the field of recreational therapy, as well as the board members that sponsor the Symposium. “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she says, “It will never be forgotten; it will benefit my career greatly in the future.”

Dracz looks forward to her last year at University of Mount Olive.  “It is often said that a physical therapist works from the waist down, an occupational therapist works from the waste up, and the recreational therapist works inside out.” I am excited to put my theory into practice when I graduate from University of Mount Olive.”

University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The College, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Washington and Jacksonville.  For more information, visit