Cayuga Nursing Students Volunteer at Special Olympics NY Winter Games

Sophomores in Cayuga Community College’s award-winning Nursing program recently volunteered at one of the premier winter events in Central New York to help athletes identify the best long-term choices for their health.

The Special Olympics New York’s 2024 State Winter Games, held this past weekend at the Oncenter in Syracuse, offered Cayuga students an opportunity to discuss healthy lifestyles with the competing athletes while also hearing about the athletes’ success in the competitions.

The Winter Games, as well as the Summer Games held the past several years in Ithaca, are events that students enjoy supporting each year, said sophomores Kimberly Ann Cespedes and Tonya Parks.

“It’s wonderful to see the spotlight on the athletes and how much they enjoy it. For us, it’s great to get to work with the athletes and build our experience working as a member of a team,” said Parks. “We talked with them, heard about the training they do for the Games, what they won and their lives outside of the Games. That in particular made it a very rewarding day.”  

Students from several local colleges and universities volunteered at the event, where they offered athletes advice and suggestions on how they can best take care of themselves and prepare for their next competitions. They had the chance to speak with 400-plus athletes who competed in events including alpine skiing, figure skating and snowshoeing.

Cayuga’s students operated stations helping athletes determine their Body Mass Index (BMI) and their blood pressure. Part of each station is promoting healthy choices for the athletes, such as avoiding smoking and vaping, wearing sunscreen, developing good nutrition and healthy bones.

The event offers students the chance to make a difference in the athletes’ lives, but also develop their communication skills as they prepare for a career in healthcare.

“The biggest thing that we talked about and focused on was good nutrition, letting the athletes know the importance of nutrition and exercise. A lot of the athletes knew about nutrition and some of the other topics, but some didn’t,” said Cespedes. “Nursing is education — we have to be ready to educate others. Wherever we go with our nursing careers, we’re going to have to educate the people we are helping, so this was a good moment for us to develop that skill.”

Cayuga Associate Professor and Nursing Lab Coordinator Edie Smith, who also coordinates the opportunities for Cayuga’s students at the Summer and Winter Games, said 2024 marks the third year program students have volunteered at the Games.

“Special Olympics has provided an excellent opportunity for our students to interact with individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, learn about this patient population, and have experience they will carry into their nursing practice,” said Smith. “Along with preparing our students, this will lead to better quality of care for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.”

Cayuga’s Nursing program is one of the top associate degree Nursing programs in New York, with all graduates from 2021 to 2023 passing the NCLEX on their first attempt. The program prioritizes professional standards, patient care and advocacy, and provides a variety of clinical settings for students to gain experience caring for patients of any age.

Students learn theoretical knowledge and clinical skills to provide care for patients, as well as leadership skills, communication and medical technologies to better care for their patients in varied healthcare settings.

For more information about Cayuga’s Nursing program, visit For details about Special Olympics New York, visit