Saratoga Afterschool recently welcomed the 2024 Saratoga Olympics—hosted by Lufthansa Group. Students teamed up to represent eight countries—Switzerland, Germany, Jamaica, Greece, Belgium, Austria, the United States, and Trinidad and Tobago—for an afternoon of friendly competition.

Lufthansa’s help alliance Americas team brought the event to life. As a non-profit volunteer organization within the Lufthansa Group, its mission is to actively engage employees in social impact initiatives throughout the Americas. The European-based aviation company flies out of JFK International Airport—which is located across the street from Saratoga Family Residence— and volunteering at Saratoga is a way for them to give back locally.

“We rely on employees coming to us that want to get involved in different social impact approaches, mainly it’s helping people—like children on an educational basis, adult education, etc.,” said Annette Lienemann, Emergency Response Manager at Lufthansa Group and Organizational Manager of help alliance Americas. “We want [our employees] to get involved, and we want them to realize how important social impact is—we want them to do something that gives back.”

The group has been volunteering with Saratoga for three years. This year, the volunteers decided to bring the Olympics to the Afterschool kids at Saratoga.

“We thought, we have the Olympics coming up, and we can put in an educational piece as well,” said Annette. “Maybe some of them say ‘Mom, I heard about the Olympics from my program,’ and then they get interested in it.”

In addition to being fun and educational, it was an innovative way of getting in physical activity during the sometimes dreary months when the kids don’t get to go outside as much.

Volunteers and staff cheered as the countries paraded into the Afterschool & Rec room—mimicking the opening ceremony of the Olympics. The room was decorated with flags from around the world and a banner proclaiming the Saratoga 2024 Olympics. The festivities kicked off with a ceremonial mock torch lighting and the countries dispersed to the Olympic event stations set up by the volunteers—three-legged race, bean bag toss, pool noodle javelin, tin can bowling, ping pong bucket toss, and tug of war.

“[My favorite part is] the bean bags because I’m great at it, and the [tin can bowling]!” said one student, Marissa. “I got all of them down like two times…”

“It’s a lot of fun because I had two things [that are] special. At my school there was a party and now there’s another party here. I get to go to two parties,” said another student, Jachbiany. “I love this day. I never want it to end.”

The energy and excitement in the room was high as the teams bounced from station to station. Even the volunteers couldn’t resist jumping in on the fun for a fierce game of tug-of-war.

“I liked to play toss. My favorite part is to play tug-of-war. We did adults [vs.] the little people,” said one student, Kamaya.

“The event was great, I think in addition to the fun, [the kids] noticed and really appreciated the fact that an outside group of volunteers would come in and put so much time—because it was very clear that they put in a lot of time and effort—into setting this up,” said Director of Afterschool and Recreation Michael Chapman. “They really connected with the kids.”

This sentiment was echoed by the students as the event closed with an award ceremony and the kids took the opportunity to share with the volunteers.

“Today is the best day because we played a lot of games,” said one student, Daisy. “I threw my noodle really far! I feel happy that all of you guys came. You guys are so nice, and I love you all so much, and the games were really fun.”

“I am very surprised that all of you came down here, and I am very grateful that I had a chance to see all of your faces and have a great time with all of you,” another student, Aquiles, added.

“I hope they take away an interest in what the Olympics stands for: bringing the world together and people having a respect for each other. And I have to say, I saw that. I am so impressed,” said Annette. “If one kid can take this away with them, if this makes a difference for them, that’s all you can ask. It’s what they take away that is what counts.”

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