After a hiatus, the local and newly re-accredited Special Olympics is returning to Sampson County on April 11, 2013 at Union High School.
Charlotte Byrd, the local Special Olympics coordinator and an occupational therapist with Sampson County Schools, shared how her job influenced her decision to rejuvenate the Special Olympics locally. “I’ve always worked with the schools, with intellectually disabled students, and they just have a big place in my heart. I saw this as an opportunity for these kids to have a goal setting experience; goal setting is a lot of what I do [in my job]. I want to challenge them and I want them to challenge themselves.”
This spring’s games, which will kick off around 9 a.m. and end at 1:30 p.m., will feature numerous track and field events, like running, the long jump, and shot-put (softball throw). There will also be non-competitive games for the kids to enjoy, according to Byrd.
“Even if the kids are not interested in sports, they can still come out and have a good time,” said Byrd. “It gives them the chance to be the star, the jock for the day.”
To make this day possible for the 150 to 200 special needs children anticipated to attend, the generosity of others, whether in the form of time or money, is needed, Byrd stressed.
“I’m working on fundraising right now. The money raised stays in Sampson County and helps make our spring events possible,” explained Byrd. “It helps buy uniforms and prizes for the athletes, food and beverages for the events, and hopefully it will help us add new sports in the future.”
“We would like to add bocce in the fall,” continued Byrd. “It’s a newer sport for the games but I think it would be a good addition. It’s one of the easier sports and is easy to manage, so it would be something that a lot of the kids could do. It would be another option for them.”
Byrd is grateful for the help she has already received in order to make the Special Olympics possible. She is especially thankful to the South River Electric Membership Corporation for the one year $5,000 grant they provided her through their South River Operation Round Up grant program.
“Back in the fall, when I was getting this whole thing started, I had many sleepless nights because I knew I had no money and no people to help make this possible,” recalled Byrd. “So when I got the grant from South River, I was breathing a sigh of relief. It means that I’ll be able to do most of the things I had planned, and I won’t have to short change the kids because of lack of funds.”
However, she is quick to note that money is not all that is needed to make the Special Olympics a success.
“Volunteers are needed,” stressed Byrd. “People don’t have to give money; we appreciate people who want to come out and give their time. We need help setting up before the event and then cleaning up afterwards. Also, if someone wants to help with the kids, we need people to help give directions and make sure that the kids get to the right places. We also need people to run some of the games.”
Byrd adds that as far as volunteering for the day of the Special Olympics goes, there is no age requirement to be a volunteer. However, if someone wants to be regularly involved, more training is necessary. “I can certainly get them in touch with the right people and help them get what they need in order to become a regular volunteer.”
Locals are also encouraged to come out and play another important role — spectator.
“We want people to come out, cheer and encourage the athletes,” said Byrd. “You know we get the children involved and get them to try something, but we need people to come out and cheer and make a big deal about what they’re doing.
“It’s important,” continued Byrd,” because the Special Olympics is for the intellectually disabled, a unique population in our county. These children don’t always have the same opportunities that other children do. Many can’t just go and take part in parks and rec activities. For many, it’s also not possible for them to be a part of a school team because they do require a lot of training. But this gives them that experience; it gives them something to participate in. It’s a goal setting challenge for them and allows them to see the rewards of working hard and doing your best.”
“I just challenge folks that if they support a local high school’s athletics that they come out and support these athletes too,” Byrd added.
If you have a special needs child who would like to participate in the Special Olympics, if you are interested in volunteering, or if you have any questions, please contact Charlotte Byrd at 910-385-5334.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at email@example.com.