On October 7, about 275 supporters of Special Olympics Santa Barbara Region (SOSBR) came out for the 4th Annual Fired Up Dinner co-hosted by SOSBR, the S.B. County Firefighters, and S.B. City Firefighters at the Carriage and Western Art Museum. The event raised funds for the SOSBR’s year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and its other programs.
Guests were greeted by several of the Special Olympics athletes and mingled inside the museum and on the scenic grounds. County firefighters served drinks, Knights of Columbus members grilled tri-tip and chicken, and a host of local dignitaries schmoozed with the crowd, including U.S. Congressmember Salud Carbajal, State Assemblymember Monique Limón, Police Chief Lori Luhnow, Mayor Cathy Murillo, District Attorney Joyce Dudley, Council members Gregg Hart, Eric Friedman, and Jason Dominguez, Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, former County Fire chief Eric Petersen, City Fire Interim Chief Lee Waldron, Lt. Ugo “Butch” Arnoldi from the Sheriff’s Office, former City Fire chief Pat McElroy, and former sheriff and former County Fire chief Pat Thomas.
In the keynote address, McElroy shared that his brother Matthew participated in Special Olympics programs for four decades and that Special Olympics was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. McElroy pointed to the socializing aspect and the pride and confidence the programs instilled in him.
He shared a precious video from 1980 featuring an LA Lakers athlete playing basketball with Matthew that brought tears and smiles to the audience as they witnessed the confidence and joy Matthew exhibited. McElroy remarked on how far society has come from when Matthew was born in 1962 and that Special Olympics is an indication of how compassionate and smarter society has gotten. He cautioned, however, that we need to think about what more we can do and the obligation we have to continue to improve opportunities. McElroy remarked not only on how deserving the athletes are, but also on how they are teachers to whom we should pay attention.
Ryan Childress, an SBCC student and San Marcos High School graduate, received the Athlete of the Year award. In presenting the award, his volunteer soccer coach and Leadership Council member Jerry Siegel lauded Childress as a phenomenal athlete, who has been dubbed the Scoring Machine, a great teammate, and a joy to coach.
The Volunteer of the Year Award went to Bud Viard, who has been a coach for the past five years and also serves on the Games Management Team. He was praised as an extraordinary coach and an outspoken supporter for Special Olympics.
The Community Volunteer Group Award went to S.B. County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, which has been a part of SOSBR for more than 30 years. Members participate in the Law Enforcement Torch Run and associated events, including the Polar Plunge and Tip-A-Cop events, which raise significant funds for SOSBR. Members also attend Special Olympic competitions to hand out medals to the athletes.
Special Olympics Santa Barbara Region serves about 500 athletes throughout the county. With a lean staff of four and about 600 volunteers, SOSBR offers year-round programming — 12 sports in all — to about 500 youth and adult athletes, all free of charge. Athletes participate in competitions both within the county and throughout the Southern California Region. Those who qualify can go on to the Southern California Region’s Fall Games and Summer Games, the USA Games, and the World Games.
SOSBR also collaborates with area schools to put on competitions both for those exclusively with disabilities and competitions that involve students from the entire school population. It also undertakes educational initiatives.
The Special Olympics programs enable participants to develop physical fitness, skills, and confidence, as well as to experience joy with other Special Olympics athletes and the community at large. Another important benefit cited by Special Olympics is inspiring people everywhere to open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential. The organization has a four-star rating (the highest) from Charity Navigator and boasts that 89 cents of every donated dollar goes to its programs. Special Olympics operates in 172 countries and serves 4.9 million athletes through its network of volunteers and supporters.
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