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After visiting institutions for people with intellectual disabilities across United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she was appalled by their treatment. She believed that, given the same opportunities and experiences as others, they were far more capable than commonly believed.

Where It All Began

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics, was a tireless advocate for people with intellectual disabilities.

Shriver put that vision into action in 1962 by inviting children with intellectual disabilities to Camp Shriver, a summer day camp in her backyard, to explore their capabilities in a variety of sports and physical activities. The Camp Shriver concept – that through sports people with intellectual disabilities can realize their potential for growth – began to spread, and in July 1968, the first International Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

“The Chicago Special Olympics prove a very fundamental fact,” Shriver said in her Opening Ceremony address at those Games, “the fact that exceptional children — children with mental retardation — can be exceptional athletes, the fact that through sports they can realize their potential for growth.” Shriver also announced a new national program — Special Olympics — to offer people with intellectual disabilities everywhere “the chance to play, the chance to compete and the chance to grow.”

What began as one woman's vision evolved into Special Olympics - a global movement that today serves 3 million people with intellectual disabilities in nearly 200 nations around the world.

Development of a Visionary
Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on 10 July 1921, the fifth of nine children of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Eunice Mary Kennedy received a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Following graduation, she worked for the U.S. State Department in the Special War Problems Division. In 1950, she became a social worker at the Penitentiary for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, and the following year she moved to Chicago to work with the House of the Good Shepherd and the Chicago Juvenile Court. On 23 May 1953, she married Robert Sargent Shriver, and in 1957, took over the direction of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation.

The Foundation, established in 1946 as a memorial to Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. – the family's eldest son, who was killed in World War II – has two major objectives: to seek the prevention of intellectual disabilities by identifying its causes, and to improve the means by which society deals with citizens who have intellectual disabilities.

Paving the Way

Under Shriver's leadership, the Foundation helped achieve many significant advances, including the establishment of the President Kennedy Committee on Mental Retardation in 1961, development of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development in 1962, the establishment of a network of university-affiliated facilities and intellectual disabilities research centres at major medical schools across the United States in 1967, the establishment of Special Olympics in 1968, the creation of major centres for the study of medical ethics at Harvard and Georgetown Universities in 1971, the creation of the "Community of Caring" concept for the reduction of intellectual disabilities among babies of teenagers in 1981, the institution of 16 "Community of Caring" Model Centres in 1982, and the establishment of “Community of Caring” programs in 1,200 public and private schools from 1990-2006.

Recognised throughout the world for her efforts on behalf of persons with intellectual disabilities, Shriver received many honours and awards, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, and received honorary degrees from, among others Yale University and Princeton University.

She died August 11, 2009. She was survived by her husband, Sargent Shriver, and their five children: Robert Sargent Shriver III, Maria Owings Shriver Schwarzenegger, Timothy Perry Shriver, Mark Kennedy Shriver and Anthony Paul Kennedy Shriver.