On Saturday, November 5, Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ) hosted free medical screenings at the SONJ Sports Complex in Lawrenceville, NJ, all thanks to their generous supporters. Athletes were provided the opportunity to receive dental screenings, cleanings, and restorative treatments in the Healthy Athletes discipline of Special Smiles as well as vision screenings and education through the Opening Eyes program. This was the third time that SONJ offered both Special Smiles and Opening Eyes screenings for their athletes at the SONJ Sports Complex!

“Our athletes face several barriers to getting access to quality healthcare such as cost, insurance, transportation, communication deficits, and lack of education and awareness among healthcare professionals and the medical school curriculums. Whether you are a current healthcare professional or a student working toward that dream, we hope that this event and future Healthy Athletes events, you all learn something new and get more comfortable and confident working with our population.”

– Amelia Hamilton, Special Olympics New Jersey Health Programs Director

Special Smiles

In total, 45 athletes received dental care and treatment, all on-site and completely FREE of charge! SONJ is the only program offering this type of preventative and restorative dental treatments along with the typical screenings for individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD). Because many athletes with IDD face several barriers when accessing adequate dental treatment, SONJ is able to offer appointments in order to detect what type of care athletes need, and then is able to provide the care and treatment on-site. This event also helps link those athletes with the necessary follow-up care they need.

This event, like others, has been life changing for athletes and their families. Linda Carlson shared her thoughts on the importance it had on her son Andrew. “Dental health has always been a challenge with our son. Over the years we have gone to numerous dentists that specialize in children that are hard to treat due to their fear of the dentist. After trying everything in several dentists offices, we had to have all dental work done in the hospital. Going through all the red tape of doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and the dreaded operating room, is difficult and costly. A couple years ago we attended SONJ dental health program, and much to our surprise Andrew sat nicely in the chair in the gym and let the dentist look at him and clean his teeth. Last weekend we attended the SONJ dental health program again and Andrew had a cavity filled! This was the first time that dental work was done outside of a hospital! His first hospital visit for dental work was when he was 3 and now at age 25 SONJ was his first time having dental work done outside of a hospital! This was a BIG day for our family! We are thankful for everyone at SONJ and the doctors that gave their time to be a part of this great event. This is an amazing opportunity for every athlete and especially those that have issues with dental problems. Honestly, we felt a miracle happened at Special Smiles Day! Thanks to SONJ and everyone involved with Special Smiles!”

Registered Dental Hygienist Maryann Jannotti said, “I have volunteered for many Special Olympics events, but Special Smiles was my first experience using my profession as a dental hygienist. This was an amazing experience to give to the athletes an opportunity for dental care, they were thrilled to be cared for and examined. Giving back what we can to our special athletes warmed my heart and I would be a part of this team in the future!”

“I really enjoyed interacting with athletes and also showing them how to brush the puppets teeth. I will be happy to help out for the Special Olympics population program in the future to help my fellow athletes take care of their health.”

– Aadita, Special Olympics New Jersey athlete & Health Messenger

Opening Eyes

In addition to Special Smiles, SONJ offered Opening Eyes which provided 52 athletes with vision screenings and a new pair of prescription glasses, sunglasses, sports goggles, or swim goggles, also completely FREE of charge! There were a total of 70 pieces of eyewear provided to athletes: 34 glasses, 19 sports goggles, 7 swim goggles and 10 sunglasses.

Pictured above: Volunteer nursing students from The College of New Jersey on November 5.

“Thank you for opening your doors to us and welcoming our nursing students from TCNJ. As mentioned on Saturday, individuals and families dealing with IDD must manage a complex web of illness and healthcare challenges. Lifespans are deeply shortened and access to and satisfaction from healthcare is often poor. Screenings in locations where families and individuals feel respected, seen and understood may be the best way to reduce the substantial disparities in health. Equally important is helping healthcare students learn to provide that respected care. What a wonderful ‘win-win’ to see so many healthcare students, with faculty and mentors come together to help the athletes!”

– Dr. Connie Kartoz, Associate Professor at The College of New Jersey
Pictured above: Special Olympics New Jersey athlete Steve on November 5.

“This event allowed many athletes the opportunity to have their teeth and eyes checked.  I feel that it is very important to have them both checked out to see if they would need glasses or a referral to the eye doctor or dentist. If a particular athlete needed glasses, then they would pick out their eyeglasses and they would be sent out to their house free of charge.”

– Steve Rodenbeck, Special Olympics New Jersey athlete

Special Olympics New Jersey wants to thank all the hardworking and dedicated volunteer professionals and sponsors for supporting this year’s Special Smiles and Opening Eyes event. Interested in future volunteering opportunities with SONJ? Be a game changer and sign up today!

Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® Programs, made possible by the Golisano Foundation in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are creating a world where people with intellectual disabilities have every opportunity to be healthy.  Healthy Athletes® provides free health screenings in a fun, welcoming environment that removes the anxiety people with intellectual disabilities (ID) often experience when faced with a visit to the doctor or dentist. We not only serve these athletes but also train healthcare professionals who then go back to their practices with increased knowledge of and compassion for people with ID.

View More Photos

Watch our TikTok video from the event below.


Did you know we provide FREE dental & vision screenings for SONJ athletes (thanks to our AMAZING volunteer professionals)? Here’s proof from Saturday’s Opening Eyes & Special Smiles event! #sonj #specialolympics #healthyathletes #lawrencevillenj #newjersey

♬ Vibes – ZHRMusic

Supported by:

Healthcare Quality Strategies Foundation

The mark “CDC” is owned by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services and is used with permission. Use of this logo is not an endorsement by HHS or CDC of any particular product, service, or enterprise.

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