World Games Updates
Volunteers: Changing Lives, Including their Own
It all began with the allure of excitement, the potential for new friendships or the thrill of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But for all of the 3,000 volunteers at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho, USA, it was an extraordinary way to give back to their community or the organization that gave their children with intellectual disabilities the chance to have fun, earn respect and be accepted in their communities.
Volunteers range in age from 14-80, and while most live in Boise and other cities in Idaho, others come from across the United States and as far away as China and Ireland. They are individuals; school, church and sponsor groups; AmeriCorps volunteers; and even military personal from Idaho’s Mountain Home Air Force Base and the state’s Air National Guard.
From 7-13 February, volunteers will fill a host of positions that include distributing meals, manning information desks, credentialing, translating, assisting media, selling merchandise, installing signage, maintaining radio communications and helping athletes at sports venues. All volunteers will work a minimum of four shifts, with a shift ranging in length from 6-8 hours.
For Todd Horton, volunteering at the 2009 World Games is a chance to give back to an organization that helped a family member. “My Great Aunt was a Special Olympics athlete. One summer, while visiting us, she proudly showed me the bronze medal she had won playing basketball. At the time, I was 12 years old and happy for her winning a medal. Now many years later, working with Special Olympics, I realize the importance of that moment. Not only do these Games have a huge impact on the athletes, but also on everyone around them,” Horton said. “Because of these Games I have learned so much about Special Olympics and the role they play in my community that I never knew existed,” he added.
Horton, who is employed as a Data Analyst for Key Bank in Boise, also runs an adult recreational ice hockey league. His volunteer job at the 2009 World Games is Sports Commissioner for Floor Hockey. “I have been hooked by this sport and have already made strides to continue my involvement with Special Olympics after the World Games and help the sport of floor hockey grow in this community,” he said.
Volunteer Juanita Hermon has been inundated with work. When the 2009 World Games Organizing Committee announced its “Scarf Project” in 2008―an invitation to the public to knit handmade scarves to give to each athlete at the World Games―they were astonished at the response. More than 60,000 scarves poured in from all over the United States, and according to Hermon, who is in charge of the project, they’ve received scarves from every U.S. state, Greece, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Africa, Puerto Rico and Canada.
Because of her volunteer experience at the 2009 World Games, Kathy Steele has a better understanding of people with intellectual disabilities and wants to stay involved after the Games. A highlight for her was when a Special Olympics Idaho athlete, who was interested in becoming a Special Olympics Global Messenger, asked Steele to read a message she wrote. “The end of the message read, ‘Because of men and women like you, you make my dreams come true.’ Her words made me realize all the hours of volunteering was the reward for helping give people with intellectual disabilities the same opportunities as everyone else to compete in sports and in life,” said Steele.
For other volunteers like Alice Loveridge, the experience has changed the way they look at people with disabilities. “I have come to realize that nothing is impossible. I have never been around people with a more positive attitude. I hope this is the start of many years of involvement with Special Olympics,” she said.
Karen Privon has similar sentiments. “I have a better awareness concerning people with intellectual disabilities. My contact with Special Olympics athletes has been rewarding and being around them with their positive attitudes and contagious enthusiasm has given me a more positive outlook on life in general. They take the life they have been given and truly make the most of it, and that is a good lesson for anyone,” concludes Privon.
Special Olympics relies on volunteers to help organize and administer Special Olympics competitions from its flagship World Games, held every two years, alternating between Winter and Summer Games, to the more than 60 competitions held every single day around the world.