I met Dominique three years ago when I was hired to be the Bellingham High School Unified Soccer Coach. At an early morning kickoff meeting for the coming season, I was immediately struck by her organization, drive and results-driven attitude. Dominique started Special Olympics in Whatcom County 10 years ago via Special Olympics of Washington. This program started with bowling. Track was added the next year, basketball the year after and then, in 2011, Unified Soccer. Unified Bowling started in 2015. Next up, Unified Basketball in 2017.
Unified Sports – what does that mean? It means a mix of athletes with and without intellectual disabilities playing competitive and compassionate sports. Opportunities to play Unified Soccer in Whatcom County exist at the university, high school, middle school and elementary school levels. Participants play five a side with three athletes – students with intellectual disabilities and two partner students without intellectual disabilities.
The goal of Unified Soccer is simple: meaningful involvement. It’s about playing, interacting, supporting, learning and teaching things about soccer and life both actively and passively to each other. It is a competitive sport but victory is not defined by the score. A team effort is key. As the slogan goes, “Motivate – Inspire – Succeed.”
Dominique grew up in Auburn, Washington, and was inspired by a Service Learning Class with Special Olympics in high school. When she was seventeen, she was told that she’d be a great Special Education teacher. This struck her. She had found her passion.
Dominique attended Western Washington University to obtain a Special Education Teaching degree and attended the University of Washington to receive a Masters in Counseling. She then moved back to Bellingham and began her career as a Special Education teacher. She’s been with Bellingham Public Schools (BPS) for sixteen years and Special Olympics for ten.
Before Dominique started with BPS, there were no opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to be involved or compete in organized sports within the district or county level. Seeing that void, she filled it by building a program that now encompasses over 100 athletes, over 50 Unified partners, 15 coaches and has expanded to the county schools.
What inspires Dominique? The book, “Miss Rumphius.” Miss Rumphius travels far and wide in her early years learning the importance of making something beautiful. In her later years, she spreads lupine flower seeds on her walks beautifying her town. Dominique’s lupine seeds are the athletes, families, coaches and community members involved with the Special Olympics and Unified programs. Her first Unified Soccer program was Bellingham High School’s team. They won District and State competitions in 2013 which qualified them to play in the Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey in 2014. During this time Dominique got the nickname “Diamond Dominique” from the former head Coach, Mark Wright.
Dominique has witnessed firsthand the impact her programs have had on students at BPS. With her undergraduate degree at WWU and her work at BPS and Special Olympics, she’s seen students through BPS from Kindergarten age to Community Transitions (CT). Through CT post-high school aged students achieve their transition goals in the areas of education and training, employment and independent living. For example, two of my athletes participate in trial work experiences, one at Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County and one at Value Village which is affiliated with the Arc of Whatcom County. This is very gratifying for Dominique, to see youth with disabilities, grow, learn and be included in our community.
Dominique is an advocate for disability awareness. She built a program to include equality of access to sports and physical education, and connected the community to adopt and support the program. As the program has grown to include 15 coaches she now misses the closeness and intimacy of getting to know a small group of athletes and families better. But I think she also realizes that the growth in her programs has allowed more athletes, coaches and parents to get involved and receive the bond that a team of people with a common goal has. Many coaches have stayed with the program for many years due to the connection and positive impact that the program has within the community. Dominique is incredibly grateful for the time and commitment that so many people have put into the program.
Dominique attributes her success in the growth of the program to strong communication and keeping a positive intent. At times her job can be frustrating. She describes her typical work week as, “there is no typical work week.” It involves outreach, coordination, facilitation, putting out fires, clerical work and constantly looking to the future. Progress is measured in new sports offerings and building the connection between participants and the community. While the paperwork can be cumbersome, she keeps an eye on the prize with an outlook of positive intent. It shows.
What lingo is important to Dominique? People first language. Simply put, we are all people, with and without disability. All of us have strengths and areas of needed improvement and it’s important to keep the person ahead of any disability. Saying an, “autistic person,” verses a, “person with autism,” may seem like a nuance but the human element is most important, not labeling the differences first.
Dominique is an extremely busy person. She has a husband and two children, ages nine and seven. Raising her children takes up most of her non-work time. In her limited free time, she enjoys exercising, kayaking, camping, hiking, snowshoeing and traveling. She loves Bellingham and the access to resources including the tight-knit yet substantial community we live in. She marvels at the spectacle of people reaching out to the community and how the community will react to make things happen.
Without Dominique’s hard work and determination, hundreds of youth in our community would not have had access to competitive sports leagues. Her programs have changed the lives of hundreds of students and families for the better. Our community would not be the same without her.
Got an idea for someone you’ve always wondered about? Maybe you already know them but think they deserve some lime light. I’m looking to get to know others that make our community a better place, a unique place, maybe even a stranger place. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.