Special Olympics Northwest Florida Continues Despite the Pandemic!

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The first Special Olympics was held on August 2, 1968. Since then, the program has impacted millions, and continues to do so more with each passing year. So what does the Special Olympics do exactly?

Their overall mission is to provide year round sports training and competition for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This is done through hosting various events throughout the year such as seasonal games and specific sports competitions. Beyond that, the Special Olympics is also the number one provider of health screenings for people with disabilities worldwide. The organization provides these screenings for people regardless of whether or not they are part of the Special Olympics programs. In Florida alone, they provided over 12,000 health screenings in 2019. The screenings lead to the organization supplying instruments such as eye glasses, hearing aids, and running shoes to participants. The goal of the Special Olympics is simply to give to the folks they serve, and it is clear that they go above and beyond every day.

Damien McNeil is the Regional Director for the Northwest region with Special Olympics Florida. He currently operates as director over twenty-two counties, including Walton and Okaloosa. For Damien, this organization has impacted more lives than can be counted. From the time he first got involved with Special Olympics as a swim coach in Pensacola, Damien continues to see confidence, security, and pure joy be displayed in both the athletes and the community of supporters around them. “We’ve literally saved lives,” Damien said when discussing how the Special Olympics has impacted individuals and communities over the years. Be it through providing health screenings, instilling confidence in the athletes, or simply giving this special community a reason to believe that having a disability shouldn’t stop you from living your life, Special Olympics Florida is making a significant impact on the world around them.

Like many nonprofit organizations, Special Olympics Florida struggles to obtain adequate funding through fundraising and other sources. Too often, these organizations are neglected in favor of other more prominent figures and businesses. The Special Olympics holds multiple fundraising events throughout the year. Visit their website at www.specialolympicsflorida.org/events for more information about fundraising and other events taking place locally. In addition to fundraising challenges, the organization has also found that providing transportation for the athletes has created a great difficulty. In times past, ride-sharing was often a solution to this problem, but due to social distancing measures this option has not been as available as it once was. In spite of the challenges this program has faced, the success they have and continue to experience has been undeniable! The Special Olympics is constantly bringing people from all walks of life together. One of the primary ways this is done is through the Unified Sports Program, which creates sports teams made up of both disabled and non-disabled individuals. Through this program, people who were strangers find themselves teammates, and that in itself has been incredible to see.

Moving forward, Special Olympics Florida hopes to continue to expand their reach. More athletes are joining every year, and more lives are being touched every year.
Special Olympics Florida is always in need of additional volunteers and coaches, so if you feel a calling in this direction, please reach out to Damien McNeil at (407) 402-8604 or send him an email at damienmcneil@sofl.org and Make a difference!