A 10-year-old from Upper Dublin campaigns to have the word "retarded" struck from people's vocabularies.
Mitzvah Hero: Soleil Savadove, 10, has a great vocabulary, but the word “retarded” has no place in it.
What It’s All About: The Upper Dublin resident and fourth-grader at Maple Glen Elementary School is especially sensitive to the word because she's heard it used in reference to her uncle, Damien Savadove, who has Down syndrome.
“My uncle was the only person with intellectual disabilities on a businessmen’s bowling league for over 20 years but this past year he wanted to change his team,” she says.
Since no one from the league or his team was calling him back, his mother — Soleil’s grandmom, Madeleine Dubin Savadove — went over to the bowling alley to see why.
“The secretary of the league was making like she would have to check to see if other team members would want a ‘retarded’ person on their team," Soleil recalls. “I was there with my Mommom and it was like me being Damien and being called the ‘R’ word because I feel for him. My Mommom said, ‘Did I hear you right? Did you just call my son retarded and use that as the reason he can’t bowl on a different team?’ ”
With the help of an attorney and public pressure, her uncle was able to switch teams. But the bowling league incident struck a spark in Soleil, who started the campaign to "Spread the Word to End the Word" on www.r-word.org. So far, she has drawn more than 500,000 pledges to stop the “R” word in its shameful tracks.
Her website is plain and simple about why the term is so hurtful.
"The R-word hurts because it is exclusive. It's offensive. It's derogatory," the site says. "Our campaign asks people to pledge to stop saying the R-word as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people. Language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions. Pledge today to use respectful, people-first language.”
Not a One-Time Thing: In addition to her recent campaign, Soleil volunteers yearly at a local special athletes basketball tournament.
"My uncle plays on my grandparents’ team, Outer Limits,” she says.
Soleil is also out and about doing what she can to protect animals. In an effort to show the horrors of hunting, she made a video showing hunters in the woods in Upper Dublin for a presentation at a local township meeting.
Good for Her: Soleil's anti-R-word campaign has been recognized with a report on Fox29 and a Commendation of Achievement from the Montgomery County Office of the Sheriff.
"It has made me feel like I can do anything, and one person can make a difference,” says the daughter of Jen Savadove, who offers kudos to her mother as well as her fourth-grade teacher, Amanda Cox, for their support of her project. "I am being raised and taught that one of the most important things to remember in life is to be a good person by wanting to help people. If you just stood by, you might just be supporting someone else doing a mitzvah. I'd rather be the one doing the mitzvahs on my own."
"I do it because I'm a leader and I want to be the one who is taking a step forward and making a difference," Soleil continues. "Ms. Cox has a quote on her wall about the word 'impossible' and she taught our class that if you look at the word in a different way, instead of it reading 'impossible' you can turn it around to saying 'I'm possible … anything is possible.' "
And how does her uncle — who was a Bar Mitzvah and confirmed at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park — feel about her mitzvah?
“He doesn’t always show it, but I can tell deep down he does think of me as a Mitzvah Hero,” she says.
As for those bowlers who might have not considered him for their teams? Their loss: “The last couple of weeks his high score has been 198,” says his proud niece. “That’s pretty high.”