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The Champion's Society®

Young man running and a logo for the Champion's Society.

The Champion’s Society® members are the guardians who protect our athletes’ future. This exceptional community of supporters is connected by a shared vision to help Special Olympics ensure a safe and quality athlete experience, grow in numbers, and expand our reach to all who wish to participate.

We take our responsibilities to our supporters seriously. You may change your mind at any time. You are never obligated by any information you share with us. And while you do not need to let us know about your gift, we hope you will so we can welcome you into The Champion’s Society®!

Thank you from Ben
Ben Collins, Special Olympics athlete and employee, personally thanks The Champion's® Society Members for their commitment.

Meet Members of The Champion’s Society®

Joy Kolesky

Joy Kolesky and standing with two athletes.
Joy Kolesky is a retired sales and marketing manager in the telecommunications industry. But more importantly, Joy is one of Special Olympics’ biggest cheerleaders and ambassadors.

Her late brother, John, is her inspiration. A person with intellectual disabilities, John was among the first to benefit from Special Olympics when it came to Southern California in the late 1960s.

Joy was immediately in awe of how Special Olympics modified sports so John and his friends in the service center where he lived could participate. Until then, John and their family had experienced public ridicule. “People would stop and stare and make comments about John,” Joy shares. “It confused and angered me that so many people seemed insensitive toward anyone different.” But John’s happiness and pleasure in participation were especially meaningful as a result: “The seed was planted when I saw his transformation!”

Fifteen years later, when she was reminded of John’s positive experiences with Special Olympics, Joy attended the Summer Games in Long Beach, California. She could feel the energy as she approached the stadium, and she began to cry when she saw thousands of people there for one purpose: to celebrate the achievements of people with IDs. Joy felt a deep happiness in experiencing what Special Olympics had done for her family, community, and the world. She has witnessed people with IDs feel respected, loved, and unique. “The change is authentic and real, and we owe it to Special Olympics.”

In addition to all the ways in which Joy supports Special Olympics, as a donor, coach, and advocate, she has included a gift for Special Olympics in her will and encourages others to join her.

“First, please go to an event—attend, offer to hand out an award to an athlete, volunteer for an hour, and witness and immerse in the spirit of Special Olympics: unity, inclusion, love.”

Taking her own advice, Joy arranged for other residents of her retirement community, Leisure World in Seal Beach, to attend the 2019 Summer Games—an experience that they found deeply meaningful.

“Then, if you feel your heart is open to it, realize that when you leave this planet, you can touch so many with your legacy gift! Please join me: Special Olympics has created the vehicle and asks each of us to get on the bus and come along!”

Shira Mitchell, Senior Vice-President of Development, Special Olympics

Shira Mitchel and family
Some of my earliest memories are of playing with my Uncle Sandy. Sandy had several intellectual disabilities and health issues, but as a young child, all I saw was someone who loved laughing, fun, and candy bars as much as I did. But I also saw that strangers viewed him differently.

I remember my family pouring all of their energy into advocating for Sandy, often with few results to show for it. And when Sandy died—still a young man in his early 40s—I remember the anger I felt at hearing murmurs about it “being for the best.”

When I heard about a professional opportunity at Special Olympics, I immediately thought of Sandy and decided to apply. Now, eight years later, I am still inspired and humbled by our athletes and the great people I get to meet. Every day, I get to witness firsthand how a donation to Special Olympics transforms into smiles, newfound confidence, and purpose for people who are often made to feel less-than. It’s an awe-inspiring thing to watch and it never gets old.

When it came time for my husband and me to update our will, following the birth of our son, including Special Olympics as a beneficiary was a no-brainer. I know, because I’ve seen it countless times, that our gift will have a meaningful, life-changing impact that will have a ripple effect across communities.

I like to think about how my gift will improve the lives of people like my Uncle Sandy and their families while simultaneously dismantling long-held stereotypes and misconceptions about people with intellectual disabilities.

Creating your estate plan needn’t be a grim task; for me, it felt like an exercise in love and practicality. I hope you will join me by including a gift to Special Olympics in your will or trust, or by beneficiary designation.

Blake Sandy

Blake Sandy
I got involved with Special Olympics in the 1990s, when a local newspaper mentioned a volunteer opportunity at a Special Olympics Track and Field event at a college near my home. When I arrived at the event, I was given a stopwatch and told which lane I was responsible for, and I spent the day at the finish line of all the Track events, watching all the athletes as they finished their races.

That was more than a defining moment; that was a life-changing moment. I’d grown up hearing about “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” but what I witnessed at Special Olympics that day was all “thrill of victory” because when you do your best you cannot be defeated, you are always victorious.

The secret of life is one thing, but you have to figure out what that one thing is. The Special Olympics volunteer opportunity showed me that my one thing is giving back and paying forward. Nothing gives me more joy and pleasure than doing my part in helping those people less fortunate than myself, than speaking up for those who don’t have the power to speak up for themselves and standing up for the rights of those who cannot. All of that is traced back to my first Special Olympics event. I consider that to be a profound influence on my life and the lives of others.

I included Special Olympics in my estate plan as a natural part of my involvement. “I’m not rich; I’m a poor man with money.” As a poor man I know that there are people who need or deserve my money more than I do, so my plan has been to choose areas that are under-represented or under-funded and share my good fortune with them. Having Special Olympics in my financial planning was simply the right thing to do.

I get the opportunity, thanks to my Special Olympics Champion’s Society lapel pin, to talk to others about my legacy gift and how everyone has the same opportunity. I talk about the value I receive from knowing that I’m part of the solution and the reward I feel whenever Special Olympics is mentioned. I say to people who seem interested: “I hope you get a call from Ben” because I receive a telephone call from Ben at Special Olympics three or four times a year. Ben is a volunteer who thanks me for my contributions and tells me how my gifts are used to help others, and I thank him for the inspiration he provides me.

Ben called me in late 2018 and left a voice message for me. I was in the office, and after listening I gathered my team around and played back Ben’s message for all of them. It touched every person who listened; I saw it in their faces, and I know his words in some way inspired each person in my group.

I would tell people to volunteer at, or watch, a Special Olympics event, and I would tell them to see the hundreds of athletes, hundreds of coaches, and hundreds of family members and think about how they all contribute to the success of Special Olympics. Knowing that in my very small way I’m part of Special Olympics, and the Special Olympics family, makes me very proud, and I sleep well at night knowing that I’m helping a very good group of people.

Thomas Hamm

Thomas Hamm standing with a woman.
In these uncertain economic times, many people are looking to add to their nest eggs in a way that won’t be affected by turbulence in the financial markets. For Thomas Hamm, a Special Olympics charitable gift annuity (CGA) helped meet that need.

“I actually have two Special Olympics CGAs,” said Thomas. “And I love them. I think of it as a gift that allows you to ‘have your cake and eat it too.’ I am retired and have no pension, and my long-term care is gone. My care, and that of my wife of 67 years, is up to me. When Special Olympics shared information about a charitable gift annuity, with a fixed payout rate of 8.7% based on my age, I was very happy.”

Thomas first learned about Special Olympics through a mailing. Once he discovered more about Special Olympics’ mission and its work in his community, he was eager to become a supporter.

“Around that time I met a neighbor whose child had an intellectual disability,” said Thomas. “He was just the nicest kid, and he made an impression on me. Then I saw on television a piece about the work that Special Olympics was doing in my community. It showed Special Olympics athletes doing their best and having a great time.”

Thomas went on to explain that the video he saw reminded him of his neighbor’s child. He realized that Special Olympics was filling a vital need and doing incredible work on behalf of adults and children with intellectual disabilities.

“When you see Special Olympics athletes participating at events, you break free of the misconception that a person with an intellectual disability can’t do anything. They seem to be having more fun competing than most of us enjoy in life. I know I’m helping others when I support Special Olympics. And that makes me feel great!”

Thomas learned about CGAs from when he served on the board of another nonprofit. Being retired and without a pension, he realized that Special Olympics charitable gift annuities made great sense.

“I make a gift, and in return, I receive fixed income for life,” he said. “I am sold on CGAs as the ideal gift to Special Olympics!”

Sadly, Mr. Hamm has passed away. His legacy lives on through Special Olympics athletes.

Gene Presson

Gene Presson with his two sons.
Gene Presson saw the difference in his sons instantly. “People don’t realize how important a sense of accomplishment is. They take for granted what it means to a person, the impact of receiving praise for a job well done. It can make all the difference.”

Both of Gene’s sons have intellectual disabilities, and when they joined the local Special Olympics bowling team, the change was immediate.

They seemed more confident. They had gained a new sense of purpose, and they looked forward to every outing. Gene decided he wanted to learn more and check out Special Olympics for himself.

Gene went to the Summer Games “just to observe,” but by the end of the day, he was so overwhelmed watching all the dedicated volunteers, he was inspired to get involved. He decided, “I needed to do something and it motivated me to start volunteering.”

Gene took up downhill skiing along with his boys and volunteered as an instructor’s aid. One of his favorite memories was of the Winter Games. Gene recalled, “To this day, I still get emotional remembering my youngest son standing on the medal platform and crying with joy.”

When the time came to update his estate plans, Gene said, “Both of my sons gained such a sense of pride through Special Olympics, it was automatic to designate a portion of my estate to Special Olympics.”

Gene chose to include Special Olympics as a beneficiary of his will. He set it up so that certain percentages will go to his family and a portion of the remainder will go to Special Olympics.

Gene has experienced firsthand the life-changing impact of our mission: “Knowing what my boys have gotten out of Special Olympics, and seeing what other participants get out of it—the joy on their faces over their accomplishments—is such a tremendous reward, this must continue.”

When asked what he would say to someone who was debating whether or not to include Special Olympics in their own plans, Gene said, “Just do it! It’s a gift that will bring such joy and accomplishment to so many people’s lives in the future. What better gift can you give?”

Officer Tracy Grady

Officer Tracy Grady standing next to a young man that has his arm around her shoulders.
Officer Tracy Grady first got involved with Special Olympics through the Law Enforcement Torch Run with her fellow officers. Before long she was attending events, volunteering, and raising funds for the organization. But she wanted to do more.

Tracy had been familiar with Special Olympics from a young age. “I was fortunate to watch Special Olympics develop throughout my life. I have always had a place in my heart for those with special needs and feel they are the most deserving.” But it wasn’t until she got involved in the Torch Run that she started to participate in Special Olympics events.

Law enforcement officers have a long history of supporting Special Olympics. The Law Enforcement Torch Run is a signature running event where officers carry the Flame of Hope to the opening ceremonies of the local, state, national, and global Special Olympics events. Tracy participated in her first Torch Run back in 2008.

After the Torch Run, Tracy was encouraged to attend other Special Olympics events through her local program and soon found herself volunteering as a basketball coach. She was hooked.

Tracy began to see firsthand the benefits of participation in Special Olympics programs. In her words, “Special Olympics empowers athletes to be more social and helps them become more comfortable with their abilities. By seeing their acceptance within society, Special Olympics athletes gain a new understanding of themselves.”

Little did Tracy know that shortly after she started volunteering for her local Special Olympics Program, her own niece would be diagnosed with an intellectual disability. Tracy says she thinks Special Olympics would be a wonderful help to her niece: “It would help her gain self-confidence. She has always struggled to integrate into society, and I believe that participating in Special Olympics would allow her to do so, and in a more meaningful way.”

Through her years of participation and personal connection, Tracy decided to include Special Olympics in her will. “I want my estate to contribute to the welfare of improving people’s lives, so that they can experience the joy of receiving a medal and the camaraderie of team sports, and get needed health care. If I achieve that, then I’ll have left an indelible mark on society.”

Like Tracy, you too can make a powerful, lasting impact on future generations of athletes that costs nothing during your lifetime. Anyone can give a gift through their will, and when you include Special Olympics in your estate plan, you create a legacy of acceptance, inclusion, and hope for all people with intellectual disabilities far into the future.

Linda-Lee Slesinger

Linda-Lee Slesinger
Retired special needs teacher and creative arts therapist in the mental health field, Linda-Lee Slesinger has been a lifelong advocate for individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. For that, she credits her beloved grandmother, Anna Rosen, who was legally blind, deaf, and physically disabled.

“Nothing stopped my grandma from raising four sons and caring deeply for her family,” says Linda-Lee. “She inspired me to look at others who were deemed ‘different’ or ‘disabled’ the same way I look at myself. Everyone has value. Everyone is good enough.”

Linda-Lee also recalls when she was a little girl in elementary school and saw how special needs students were ostracized, kept in separate rooms away from the “regular kids.” “I tried to eat lunch with a girl in the special needs class I knew from my neighborhood, but the teacher in charge told me I ‘had to eat with my classmates.’”

It was at that moment that Linda-Lee vowed that she would be an instrument of positive change. “No child should ever be separated and made to feel different,” she says.

Linda-Lee first learned about Special Olympics soon after Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the organization in 1965. “I was so excited to find an organization that mirrored my values, and whose mission tried to make amends to children and adults who had been previously hidden in the shadows and locked away. Special Olympics helps our most vulnerable population by giving them every opportunity to be their personal best and teach all of us to never give up.”

She adds that she and her husband, Jeff, included a gift to Special Olympics in their will because it is simply their life’s mission: to do good. “I trust that Special Olympics will help someone—probably someone I’ll never meet—realize their full potential. Including Special Olympics in our will is our way of leaving this earth better than we found it.”

Rich Green

Rich Green
Rich Green has been involved with Special Olympics for more than a decade and has seen his life enriched immeasurably.

Ten years ago, Rich was an avid tennis player, regularly involved in United States Tennis Association (USTA) leagues and tournaments. His local USTA league coordinator was the host of a Special Olympics Tennis Qualifier tournament and turned to Rich. “I had a grand time helping and even had my teenage children volunteering along with me. I was so impressed with the athletes that it sparked the idea to start a Special Olympics tennis program in our county,” says Rich. Two years later, Rich launched a local program, which is still going strong. The experience fed his desire to deepen his involvement with Special Olympics, and he began training other coaches and assisting the Sport Development Team.

“My life feels much more complete being involved with Special Olympics. It’s the one thing I dedicate significant time to where there has never been doubt that it is a good and worthwhile use of my time,” says Rich. “It is easy to see how Special Olympics benefits all involved: athletes, volunteers, families, and communities.” He is particularly inspired by witnessing the joy and gratitude of parents who notice their child’s growth in confidence, ability, and social and communication skills.

Because he has found his relationship with Special Olympics so meaningful, Rich has included Special Olympics in his estate plan. Rich explains, “I would like to leave some of my savings to worthy causes that benefit the ‘greater good’ for people, animals, and nature. Since Special Olympics has added so much to life for me and others, it is included prominently in the charitable portion of my estate plan.”

Rich would like to encourage other supporters to include Special Olympics in their will or other estate plans: “If you are reading this, then most likely you already understand the great value in helping an organization such as Special Olympics. When it is your time to depart this world, generosity and helping others can be a great source of comfort as to a life well lived. Whether you have a lot or a little, or plan to give a large or small portion of that to charity, even a small percentage could make a big difference to those who are helped.”

Andrea Westmeyer

Andrea Westmeyer standing with her brother.
Andrea Westmeyer included a gift to Special Olympics in her legacy planning in honor of her brother, a former Special Olympics athlete.

Brent participated in bowling and track & field for 25 years. He won countless ribbons and medals and made new friends. He was particularly proud and honored to be asked before one state bowling competition to carry the American flag into the opening ceremonies.

“Brent has early onset Alzheimer’s,” says Andrea. “It’s difficult for him to remember something that happened even recently. However, despite the fact that he stopped participating when he was in his mid-30s, he remembers his medals and Special Olympics.”

Andrea describes the community where she and Brent grew up as being all-inclusive. “When Brent rode his bike, everyone waved to him,” she says. “I feel fortunate that our neighbors loved and accepted Brent, and I think every person with an intellectual disability should experience that same level of love and acceptance. That’s why I support Special Olympics.”

In addition to being a loyal donor, Andrea has made a percentage gift from her revocable trust to Special Olympics. She’s surprised by how many people she knows who do not yet have a will or estate plan.

“I have worked hard and been successful,” Andrea says. “Now I want to do the right thing with all that I have. I believe it is very important for people to think it through and create a plan. I get emotional discussing this, but I am glad to have made a planned gift in honor of my brother.”

“Special Olympics is a well-run organization. I feel good knowing that my legacy will include helping Special Olympics to create an inclusive and supportive society for many years to come.

“My parents instilled in me the importance of philanthropy,” Andrea adds. “I know how much giving on behalf of others has enriched my life. I advise everyone to experience that enrichment by supporting their favorite causes through planned giving.”

Matthew and Jen Nicci

Matthew with his arm around his wife Jen's shoulder.
Special Olympics is very much part of a family legacy for me. From very early in life, my parents instilled the value that we were obligated to help whom we can, when we can, and how we can.

We were fortunate that my father’s company was a sponsor of Special Olympics Connecticut’s winter games, and I was an avid skier at a very young age. Some of my earliest memories are of being with my family and accompanying athletes to their downhill ski events. Four decades later, I am bringing my own kids to our competitions. It’s a full-circle feeling.

My wife, Jen, has been incredibly supportive not just of the financial contributions we have made to Special Olympics, but also incredibly generous in letting me fully dive into the organization first as a volunteer, then as a board member, and now as the chair of the board.

Special Olympics has become a part of our family’s DNA, and I love our athletes. They are incredible people who deserve to have the highest level of competition and resources that we can provide.

In addition to our financial contributions now, we both wanted to help Special Olympics fulfill its mission into the future. We support many nonprofit organizations, but when we decided to include a gift to Special Olympics in our estate plan, we knew our gift would help improve the lives of others, and we are confident that Special Olympics will be good stewards of our support.

I know firsthand how important it is to raise more resources to help more athletes, and furthering SO’s mission of serving athletes with our legacy support was something we absolutely wanted to do.

There are many ways a person can lead in this world, but I believe we function at our best when we are acting as servant leaders. Our coaches are selfless, our volunteers are always eager to help, and our staff is an incredible group of “doers.”

At the end of the day, we are here to serve our athletes. It is impossible not to cheer for them. Ask anyone who has been to a Special Olympics event—whether it’s that first high five, the first congratulatory hug, or the first time seeing an athlete with arms raised on the podium, once you experience it, you are hooked for life. And I’m very thankful my family provided that opportunity for me.

For more information, please contact us:

Connie Grandmason

Senior Director, Planned Giving
Tel: (202) 536-5541
Toll Free: (866) 690-3951

Sara Deur

Senior Manager, Planned Giving
Tel: (202) 964-2498