During a car wash held in the Broadway Middle School parking lot, the Clatsop County chapter of Special Olympics Oregon drummed up awareness for the local athletic program in addition to raising funds.
According to fundraising manager Peggy Holyoak, they striving to expand their presence in the county and connect with more prospective athletes in and out of the schools.
“Special Olympics is kind of synonymous with training for life,” she said. “It gives (athletes) opportunities to grow and stretch and socialize and enjoy the joy of competition.”
The Clatsop County division — which serves individuals with intellectual disabilities who are eight years or older — is kicking off its fall season of aquatics, bowling, and potentially soccer, if they can round up enough athletes for the team. Currently, there are about 35 athletes registered for the fall sports.
Athletes practice a couple hours each Saturday, in Astoria for bowling and Seaside for aquatics. Their athletic seasons mimic those for the same sports at the high school level.
While the program has participated in the Astoria Regatta Parade the past four years and held other fundraising events throughout the year, but they had not yet done one in Seaside. David McAloney, a volunteer who serves as sports manager and social media director, among other things, feels it’s important to show the face of the program outside northern Clatsop County, as “Astoria is not the county,” he said.
Driving toward self-sufficiency
Special Olympics Oregon, a part of the international organization, went through a major transition in the past year. The state program was attempting to handle funding the local programs, in addition to statewide competitions, and asking local programs to simply send in what they could contribute. While the idea was good in theory, it didn’t pan out as anticipated, Holyoak said, adding, “It was too easy for local programs to not fundraise as much as they were costing the state.”
The state program was losing money and unable to pay for services they used to have in the past, to the extent they had to cancel the 2018 summer and fall games and 2019 winter games.
Under new CEO Britt Carlson Oase, Special Olympics Oregon turned fundraising back over to the local programs, which are completely volunteer-run and now returning to self-sufficiency. Holyoak doesn’t see that as a negative thing, however.
“They put it back to the counties: If you want an awesome program, go raise awesome funds,” she said. “We can show our athletes, ‘This is up to you, and we’re going to help you.’”
Everything the Clatsop County chapter raises goes back into its program. They cover transportation to events, equipment, and all other costs so athletes and their families don’t pay out of pocket.
With the state program getting back on track, the athletes can return to state competition this year and they are looking forward to it.
“A lot of our athletes are big on competition,” Holyoak said.
Athlete Measha Porter, of Astoria, who is doing bowling this fall, agreed at the Sept. 14 car wash. While she enjoys “being able to go and have fun,” she also views training and competing as meaningful benefits of involvement. She has been to competition at the global level twice: In 1995 for power lifting and in 2011 for track and field.
She’s now expanded her involvement with the program, taking on the role of an ambassador and being “trained to speak on behalf of the Special Olympics,” she said.
Competition is important, she said, because it allows the athletes to pursue the spirit of the program’s motto: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Locally, the Special Olympics program is financially healthy, with enough funds to pay for the fall and winter programs. According to Holyoak, the desire is to “stay ahead of the game, so we can truly invite more athletes and know we have the funding to support them.”
An opportunity for volunteers
In addition to holding more fundraisers throughout the county and connecting with prospective athletes, the Clatsop County Special Olympics is also seeking additional help.
“To grow our program, we’re going to have to grow our volunteers as well,” Holyoak said.
To meet the safety requirements of the program, they need to have one Class A volunteer per four athletes at each event, including practices. Class A volunteers are those who complete a Protective Behaviors training and test and a background check. The program also uses day-of-event volunteers to pitch in periodically.
Special Olympics Oregon also is encouraging local chapters to implement unified sports programs, which combine approximately equal numbers of Special Olympics athletes and athletes without intellectual disabilities on sports teams for training and competition. According to McAloney, the program benefits Special Olympics athletes by giving them another opportunity to engage with their peers, while other students who enjoy sports but may not have the skills or interest to participate on a school team get to be play and stay active.