For the past 12 years, Berkadia Real Estate Analyst Hassan Dixon has made a point to give back to the communities that he has grown up, worked, and lived in, from hosting leadership programs at local elementary schools to visiting the elderly, and he currently serves as the Quality of Life chair for a local government advisory board in Montgomery County, Maryland. So, in early November 2018, when a friend reached out asking if he’d like to be involved with one of the largest volunteer efforts in the world, the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, he jumped at the chance.
On March 14, 2019, he took the 7000-mile trip across the world. Traveling to an unfamiliar place is always a little bit nerve-wracking, and for him, this was no different. “I was nervous and full of butterflies when I arrived at my volunteer location, but more than anything, I was ready to help athletes conquer their dreams on the world stage,” he explained.
The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 were a cultural melting pot, with volunteers from locales including Sri Lanka, Qatar, Sweden, Great Britain, South Africa, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, but nearly every person Dixon met asked the same question: “you came all the way from America just to volunteer?” His answer was a resolute, “yes.”
For four days, he worked with athletes, volunteers, and Special Olympics staff from all over the world. Hassan, a lifelong athlete, had never seen so many athletes competing with such passion, joy, or emotion.
Toward the end of the games, remembering the same sense of pride and accomplishment being asked gave him after competing, Hassan gathered as many autographs and photos as possible and found that coaches and athletes alike were elated by the request.
“It is incredible to witness, firsthand, what something so simple as a sport can do for people. A shot, goal, touchdown, or run has the potential to give a person the confidence to propel them through life for many years to come. This is why the Special Olympics are so important,” said Dixon. “The confidence and joy these athletes felt through the games will help guide them to greater things in life. I felt the same special feeling growing up playing sports, so it was an incredible experience seeing all these athletes feel the same way I had growing up. Without sports, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Dixon took advantage of his fifteen-hour flight home to reflect on his experience in Abu Dhabi, explaining, “I’ll just say that it was an emotional ride home.” One might expect that traveling across the world to an unfamiliar place full of new people would be strange, however nothing was strange. In fact, by the conclusion of the games, participants became a family. Differences in language, religion, and background evaporated, leaving something in common: a desire to make a magical experience for each and every athlete at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
When asked why he chose to take advantage of this opportunity and why volunteering is so important to him, he shared: “I love helping others, sports, and traveling, so the opportunity to volunteer at the Special Olympics was the perfect combination of all three. More importantly though, it’s vitally important to me to show these athletes just how awesome they are through the same things that pushed me as an athlete: the comradery, smiles, high fives and the recognition and celebration of hard work. People sometimes fail to notice the impact of small gestures, but they positively change lives every day. I’ve learned that there’s far more to life- it’s about giving with no expectations, and knowing I made an impact on each athlete beats any type of tangible reward or gift I could ever receive. The smiles and genuine joy are what giving back is truly about.”