A waltz on a spring evening in 2015 had a huge impact on Gustavo Roversi.
Then a first-year student, Roversi volunteered to help out Spartans for Special Olympics at a dance held by New Avenues to Independence, an organization that provides opportunities for people in Northeast Ohio who have disabilities and special needs.
After spending much of the evening dancing with one woman in particular, Roversi knew he wanted to dedicate more time volunteering and developing such personal connections with individuals with special needs.
“There’s very few organizations that give you the opportunity to interact with the people you’re serving so much,” said Roversi, who joined Spartans for Special Olympics shortly after and has served in leadership positions ever since. But at Spartans for Special Olympics, he noted, “We have so many volunteer opportunities.”
Next up on their agenda? Hosting the third annual CWRU Special Olympics Tournament Friday, Sept. 30*.
The event will bring 125 local children with special needs to become athletes for the day at Case Western Reserve University Friday, Sept. 30, for a day full of tournament-style games.
Roversi, now a junior studying chemistry on the pre-med track, is vice president for external affairs of Spartans for Special Olympics. He works with a team of students to grow the organization, find volunteers for events and lead outreach initiatives.
“I did not hear about this [organization] my first year, but I wish I would have. So I really want to share it with people,” Roversi said. “Other people need to know about this because as soon as they do, they’re going to fall in love with it.”
Each year, students from local schools attend the event and are matched up with a CWRU student or “buddy,” who sticks with them throughout the day and completes activities with them. (See how you can get involved at the end of this article.)
At the end of the event, each of the participants gets their own medal—a moment from last year Roversi remembers fondly.
“Their faces just lit up entirely,” he said.
Though the organization hosts Special Olympics each year, their volunteer opportunities extend well beyond the one-day athletic event. Often, students head over to Mary McLeod Bethune PreK-8, which has a special needs program, to organize activities for classes. Their activities can be anything from decorating shirts to cooking.
During these volunteer opportunities, Roversi often thinks of his 3-year-old niece and older cousin, both of whom have special needs.
“I think of my niece and how I wish somebody would do that with her. I’m not there, so I hope, as she’s growing up, she joins an organization like this and that there will be people who will play with her and have fun with her,” Roversi said.
While Roversi is passionate about working with children with special needs, he’s also involved with Sexual Assault and Violence Educators (SAVE), Greek Life, Students Meeting About Risk and Responsibility Training (SMARRT) and the Global Ethical Leaders Society.
It’s his work with SAVE and SMARRT (in which students meet with organizations to talk about safe sex, sexual health, sexual positivity and other related topics) that he looks to carry into his career as a physician, hoping to raise awareness and educate people about sexual assault.
“The best remedy for ignorance,” he said, “is education.”
For now he continues to address those issues on campus, but next Friday, he’ll have his mind on one goal: helping 125 children have the time of their lives.
Check out Roversi’s answers to this week’s five questions.
1. Who has been your most influential mentor?
Professor Michael Householder, associate director of the SAGES program, was my first-year adviser for the SAGES class. I still talk to and go to him. He was the first person to tell me that it’s OK to not take the traditional route. It’s OK to take a class in a different semester than someone else is taking it. It’s OK to some time off. It’s OK to say no to certain things in school. I could speak on and on about him because he’s not only been a really good academic adviser, but also really great to talk to about life.
I came into college with a very narrow mind in the sense of what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. Having someone to always be checking in on me and to say: “You don’t have to do it that way. Why are you putting so much pressure on yourself?” That’s been very influential to me. I think I’ve grown a lot, thanks to him.
2. What was your first job?
My first job was when I was really young. My dad has a paper cup manufacturing company—so like the Sno Cone cups, we make those. My grandpa started it in 1949 and my dad took over in the early 1990s.
I was learning how to count in school and my dad said he could pay me in ice cream, which was fun, to count inventory. We had a truck of raw paper coming in—and he said, “I want you to count how many rolls of paper are coming in.”
That was my first job. I did that for a couple of weeks. I’ve always worked there—every summer until I came to college. And I usually work at the start and end of summer since I’ve been here. I go back home and help him out. Now I do sales and production.
But that was my first job: counting paper.
3. Who is your favorite author?
That’s a tricky question. I’m not a huge bookworm. I read a lot of science articles and I’m a chem major, so I read a lot for that. I’ve always really enjoyed British literature, so authors like Oscar Wilde, and British poetry and playwrights. Shakespeare, I really like him. Henry V is one of my favorite plays.
4. How do you like to spend your time when you’re away from school and/or work?
This is not popular, but I love to run. It’s one of my biggest hobbies. I’ve run a couple of half marathons and I ran the Cleveland Marathon in 2015. Running has been a big part of my life. It’s a really spiritual thing for me and it’s like my meditation. I have fun, too, because that’s when I check out my new music.
I also really like to dance. My mom put me in salsa classes when I was 8 years old. I’m really good at salsa.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
It’s definitely the people. I went to a very homogenous high school. For me, I was looking for something a bit more diverse. I’m personally diverse—I have many different things about me that make me unique. I wanted to meet other people who were also different and not like me.
When I visited CWRU, it was in late April and I had already paid my deposit somewhere else. I did not expect to see the community and how accepting it was here. For me, that’s something that was crucial for me. A lot of times you might go somewhere and it’s just an institution and that’s it—it’s not home. You don’t invest that much into it. That’s why I think so many people here are so involved because it’s such a home to them that they want to invest in the school.
For me, that’s huge. Waking up in the morning and knowing that I have people to count on, and when I’m walking on campus and people know who I am and say hi to me—that makes a school.
There are other schools that are really good academically, there are other schools that are ranked really well like here and have access to great resources. But the people and the community are what make it. It’s what makes coming to this school honestly the best decision I could have made.
*Those who want to volunteer to be a buddy at Special Olympics this year can sign up online. The event is held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, at the Veale Convocation, Recreation and Athletic Center.
If you can’t make it to the tournament but want to get involved with Spartans for Special Olympics in other volunteer opportunities, email Roversi at firstname.lastname@example.org or Amanda Kruszewski at email@example.com.