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The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


Senior nutrition students to volunteer for SOPA

Senior nutrition and human performance majors (from left): Danielle King, Alex Benacci, Rachael Sy and Carly Bone are training as volunteers for the fall Special Olympics Oct. 23.

Four Gannon University students in the nutrition and human performance program will be volunteering in the fall Special Olympics of Pennsylvania (SOPA) program at Bloomsburg University later this month.

The school is also hosting the state’s largest Bocce ball tournament in conjunction with the games. SOPA is Pennsylvania’s division of the Special Olympics started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Dawna Mughal, Ph.D., an associate professor of sport and exercise science and registered dietitian, is the clinical director for the event and will host a Health Promotion table with her nutrition and human performance students.

Here, they will provide information on nutrition, hydration, screenings for bone health and BMI, sun safety, hygiene and sanitation and physical activity.

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Mughal said the group will focus on health issues individuals with intellectual disabilities are most at risk to experience.

These health disadvantages range from obesity to osteoporosis. Mughal’s students will work with Sarah Marks, M.D., a pediatrician at the Geisinger Hospital in Bloomsburg, and Marks’ medical residents to educate the athletes about healthy food.

For example, the table will include an interactive display where athletes pick their favorite drink from a selection of water and Coke, and the students then can recommend more nutritious alternatives like orange juice if the individual prefers Coke.

Mughal will join Marks and their groups of volunteer students at Bloomsburg Oct. 24.

Mughal said students are beginning training in teaching and communicating with people with intellectual disabilities and they will learn to adjust their communication for the needs of the athletes.

“From my perspective, service learning is a powerful way of learning outside the classroom,” Mughal said.

“The next step here is to engage students at Gannon. It is different from doing it in the classroom.”

Rachael Sy, a senior nutrition and human performance major, said she is very excited to interact with the SOPA athletes.

Sy has a sister with disabilities and her father is the CEO of Aspire of WNY, which is a nonprofit that provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities. She said she has a lot of experience volunteering and interacting with people with disabilities. Sy said her favorite volunteer experience was Touching Bases Softball, a league for disabled individuals from multiple nonprofit agencies that included Aspire.

“Seeing the players’ love for not only the game, but also just life in general is incredibly rewarding,” Sy said.

Even with prior experience, Sy has not worked with the Special Olympics before and said she hopes to become more involved after this experience and that it will give her practical experience in health promotion for people with disabilities.

“My dream job is to become a registered dietitian at an agency like my father’s, so volunteering with these individuals is important,” Sy said.

Alexandra Benacci, a senior nutrition and performance major, said she is excited to share her experience with classmates and friends.

“I haven’t done anything like this before,” Benacci said.

“I never really considered working in this area of nutrition and health. Maybe this will open another door for me in the future and allow me to expand areas of interest.”

Danielle King, a senior nutrition and human performance major, said she looks forward to working with SOPA and hopes assisting and experiencing the Special Olympics will help her pinpoint her true career path.

“I think we have a lot to learn from organizations and events like SOPA,” King said.


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