Kayla (middle) presenting to her swim team

This past week Kayla Marwick, a community activist and young leader helped to change the minds of many. Kayla with the help of her family, friends and community members, banded together with the goal of raising awareness about the “Spread the Word” campaign. This campaign was founded by Special Olympics and Best Buddies in 2009 with the intent of asking people to “Take the Pledge” and stop using the “R-word” ‘retard(ed)’. The campaign has received international recognition and has seen thousands of people from all over the world “Take the Pledge”.

Kayla Marwick is from a small city in Northern Ontario called Temiskaming Shores. For as long as she can remember, she has been an avid swimmer and trains 4 times a week with a local competitive community swim team. It was with her competitive swim team and also her connection with Special Olympics that Kayla found out about the campaign. “I have wanted to be involved with the campaign since I heard about it in 2009,” said Kayla. Late last year Kayla decided that it was time to become involved on a larger scale.

In late February, Kayla and her team took action and formally addressed the city council wearing “Spread the Word” T-Shirts. As a result, the City of Temiskaming Shores announced that March 4th would be recognized as “Spread the Word” day. As someone who has been directly affected by this language, this was a proud moment for Kayla. Hearing about the successful town council meeting, the local radio station as well as a local high school became involved by taking the pledge. Kayla’s mother Lynne spoke about the local community’s involvement – “Being a small community, we were able to build connections and partnerships. Now that we have been out there, we hope to solicit more support and self-advocacy from the community. Self-Advocacy is a skill that has to be broken down in steps,” said Lynne.

Kayla’s mother, Lynne, initially had concerns about Kayla’s involvement within the campaign. “During our discussion, we had to address that some people may not know what the R-word is, which would mean that Kayla would have to say it.  Some may not see this word as a problem at all.  As a mother and as any mother would, I initially wanted to shield her from any potential hurt this could cause. I realize now that guarding her would have inhibited her growth. On March 4th, I took a back seat to simply watch her carry herself within her various responsibilities on that day. Her advocacy skills, her confidence and her passion gave me hope and optimism for her future. She held her ground and didn’t hold back, she took charge.   It was an emotionally draining day but a day that changed a community and inspired possibilities,” said Lynne. On March 4th, with the help of her committee, Kayla carried out 15 presentations at one of the local high schools.

In terms of future efforts, as a budding community activist, Kayla has expressed her desire to grow the campaign throughout her community next year. “I hope to have more committee members, students, and schools involved next year,” said Kayla. Overall, Kayla and her team were able to garner over 700 pledges towards the campaign and were recognized for their contribution on the Special Olympics Facebook page. . Kayla elaborated on her passion for the campaign – “We can all spread the word through society. It’s not just about the R-word. We should all be going in the direction of using more respectful words – maybe it’s just about a more respectful community.”