Area 9 Special Olympics offers opportunities for support, growth, and social interaction for so many children and adults in Bay and Arenac counties. Athletes commit to hours of practice as well as tournaments and competitions leading up to the State Games.
For the volunteer coaches, this means figuring out transportation around the state. It was often difficult to get enough drivers and vehicles to accommodate the whole team, forcing Area 9 Special Olympics to rent vans so their athletes wouldn’t miss out. This became quite costly as they have more than 15 teams traveling regularly throughout the year. As the program continues to grow, so does the challenge of transportation.
With support from the community, Area 9 Special Olympics purchased a team van, eliminating regular rental costs and allowing all their athletes to ride together and build team camaraderie. This was made possible by grants from Bay Area Community Foundation’s Nathalie Awrey Memorial Fund and Civic League of Bay County Fund as well as funding from the Leslie L. Squires Foundation and SC Johnson.
Now, athletes are able to continue to participate in many sports. One such athlete is Paul, a positive and energetic participant who always shows up with a smile and words of encouragement for his teammates. With almost no family to speak of, Paul has come to rely on the Special Olympics volunteers and athletes. They have become his new family and support system.
“Where would he be without Special Olympics?” says Mary Pearsall, longtime volunteer and coach. “It is just such an outlet for him. There isn’t one athlete who hasn’t improved his life from being a part of it.”
Area 9 Director Janelle Rosebush-Miller says, “The van makes a huge difference in our daily operations. We are so grateful for the Foundation’s support.”
Now that they have their van secured, they are looking for more volunteers to coach and work with the athletes. Janelle encourages all to give volunteering with the Special Olympics a try, adding that there are opportunities to help behind the scenes for those not as interested in the sports.
“Once you try it, you can’t help but want to get involved,” Mary said.
To learn more about Area 9 Special Olympics, you can visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SOMI.Area9.