The Special Olympics provides a unique opportunity for athletes with developmental and intellectual disabilities. When these athletes can show their skills in athletic competition, they draw confidence from their activities and form active social bonds. They are also able to keep fit and follow a healthy lifestyle.
The Special Olympics are held in many countries throughout the world, showcasing sports ranging from swimming to bowling. Athletes and their families can compete at no cost to themselves, thanks to the tireless work of many dedicated donors and volunteers.
Mark Milliere, a native of Georgetown, Ontario, has been recognized as the top volunteer fundraiser for Special Olympics Canada. He won the Frank J. Selke Jr. Award in 2018 as a reward for his constant efforts toward supporting the Special Olympics.
Milliere provides an excellent example for Canadian business leaders who want to make a difference in their communities. Through his stewardship, Special Olympics Canada has been able to serve more deserving children and young people in the country.
The History of the Special Olympics
The Special Olympics had their genesis in a summer day camp started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her family in 1962. Known as Camp Shriver, the program was held in the backyard of their farm in Maryland. At first, the camp was populated with children from local special-needs schools and institutions. These children were matched with high school and college-aged counselors in an almost one-to-one ratio.
Together with their partners, the special-needs children were able to enjoy horseback riding, soccer, basketball, and swimming. The program became a local success and gained the attention of educational authorities in the area.
In the fall of 1967, the Chicago parks department instituted a track meet for young people with intellectual disabilities. This track meet was modeled on the Olympics. Shriver decided to expand her program to include events from throughout the country.
It was around this time that Shriver teamed up with Canadian Dr. Frank Hayden. Dr. Hayden had established himself as a leading authority in special-needs fitness through his research work done in Toronto. Thanks to the combination of Dr. Hayden’s expertise and the dedication and resources of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Kennedy Foundation, the Special Olympics, as we know them were finally able to gain traction.
In March 1968, Shriver and the Chicago parks department announced that they would be holding the first “Olympics” for young people with disabilities. One thousand athletes from the U.S. and Canada competed in the first Games at Soldier Field in Chicago that summer. There were a variety of events offered, such as the broad jump, 25- and 100-yard swims, 50-yard dash, floor hockey, and water polo.
As the Special Olympics program spread around the world, public perception of young people with intellectual disabilities began to change. Society was starting to move these young people out of institutions back into the community, and the positive news coverage helped to alter the discriminatory attitude toward people with intellectual disabilities.
By the 1980s, the Special Olympics was a worldwide institution. Athletes competed at first in their local area, followed by state and provincial/territorial games. The focus of the Special Olympics stayed on the health and well-being of its athletes, as well as their acceptance into the community as a whole.
Goals of the Special Olympics
The mission statement of the Special Olympics is to provide year-round training and competition in a variety of sports. This program is for both children and adults with intellectual disabilities. They have the opportunity to develop their physical fitness, experience many positive emotions related to participating in a sport, and build social bonds.
Needs on the Local Level
While the Special Olympics are a worthy cause, they can be expensive to run. The program needs practice space and areas where competition can happen. The program needs uniforms, publicity, and recruitment. Volunteers fill most of these needs, but the fact remains that the Special Olympics need money to run.
It is where dedicated fundraisers come in. These fundraisers solicit donations from community members and businesses. They also perform community service events like the Polar Plunge and various fundraising dinners. All of these events come together to fund the Special Olympics.
Changing the Lives of People with Intellectual Disabilities
In the 1960s, when the Special Olympics were first held, the public perception of people with intellectual disabilities was much less accepting than it is today. It was believed that these people could not live in the community because they were too dangerous, disruptive, and belligerent. As they spent more time in the community, the public at large began to believe that they were worthy of society’s services and respect.
With the competition opportunities afforded by the Special Olympics, the intellectually disabled community can take pride in their members’ accomplishments. The children and adults in the program are in better physical shape than their peers, possibly reducing the incidence of health problems among the population.
Fundraising is Key
Fundraisers like Mark Milliere are the key piece of the puzzle when it comes to running the Special Olympics in Canada, the United States, and throughout the world. This valuable program brings a sense of pride to the intellectually disabled community and allows for physical competition as well as social bonding.
The Special Olympics will continue to be an essential part of the educational and social program in the community and will provide many more opportunities in the years ahead.