Thursday night, senior Sarah Beth Brooke was dolled up to attend Theta Chis semi-formal. She wore a black dress. Friday night, she stayed in and worked on graduate school applications. Saturday night, she braved the chilly weather to cheer the Bulldogs to victory over Auburn. Sunday she spent the afternoon caring for Sophie Neupert, a 23-year-old with Williams syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes cardiovascular disorders, learning disabilities and developmental delays.
“It’s a passion of mine to help this population improve their quality of life whether it’s through just being a friend to them or helping them get to a greater level of independence,” Brooke said.
Since childhood, Brooke has worked with special needs children. Growing up in Duluth, Georgia, Brooke became involved with TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer), an organization that exists to provide disabled children with the opportunity to learn athletics skills and interact with peers.
Continuing her involvement with TOPSoccer throughout high school, Brooke’s experience with special needs children shaped her career path. After being accepted to UGA, she decided to major in exercise sports science and psychology with aspirations of working in special needs therapy.
“My main goal was every time I work with these kids, it is awesome to have a role in helping them have a higher quality of life,” Brooke said. “You can take someone from limited mobility to walking on their own.”
At the start of her sophomore year, Brooke joined Special Olympics at UGA. This on-campus organization educates students about special needs, provides a volunteer base to Athens-Clarke County Special Olympics, and celebrates the abilities of Special Olympics athletes.
This year, Brooke is serving as the co-president of Special Olympics at UGA. Her responsibilities entail overseeing the other divisions of the organization, leading weekly executive meetings and keeping in contact with Coach Julie Evans. Evans is an Athens-Clarke County adapted physical education teacher and the Special Olympics local coordinator.
“[Brooke] and this organization have single-handedly created working relationships that will benefit the Special Olympics athletes and families for many years to come,” Evans said. “The issue of number one importance is the realization that people with disabilities are truly our peers and make excellent friends.”
On the business end of her executive position, Brooke leads the campus organization with a people first mindset. Sarah Spencer, the recruitment chair for Special Olympics at UGA, has worked alongside Brooke for several years.
“Sarah Beth’s leadership style is very personalized,” Spencer said. “She really cares about you as a person. She doesn’t micromanage, but she’s there if you need her.”
Through involvement with the Athens special needs community, Brooke found a place to serve and give back. But Brooke quickly discovered that working closely with the special needs community was a mutually beneficial arrangement.
“Without a doubt, we can not only change their lives, but they help shape us into better people,” Brooke said.
Brooke discussed her relationship with the Special Olympics athletes calling them “our kids,” showing her sense of responsibility for the special needs community. Her involvement with Special Olympics at UGA has opened her eyes to the great need for service in Athens.
“Being able to be involved with Athens-Clarke County has made a huge difference in my college experience because Georgia is a great university and Athens is such a great town, but there is such a need for service in the greater community outside our campus,” Brooke said. “I think I was a little blind to that my freshman year.”
Brooke leads the campus organization and also works as a caretaker for people like Neupert. Her involvement with the special needs community has given her perspective and purpose. After graduation, Brooke plans to enter the occupational therapy field and maintain her affiliation with Special Olympics.
“Not necessarily every time you hang out with our kids you will have some amazing epiphany about life,” Brooke said. “But it goes to show you there are a lot of things we take for granted or that we might put more focus on than is necessary. So having that call to what’s really important and celebrating your own talents and other people around you is an amazing thing to do in college.”