Written by: Samantha Boyd, Special Olympics Maryland Volunteer Coordinator
“It’s been an emotional investment for me because I’ve been at their beginning, and it’s like they’re a part of me. They’ve become my closest friends…Even when I’m not physically there, I still make my presence known to them because a lot of them don’t have the support like that.”
Kike Ayorinde understands just what a family affair volunteering with Special Olympics Maryland can be. Kike is a volunteer with the Montgomery Country program, introduced through helping with her older sister’s, Ayaan, various teams while they were growing up. Kike started as a general volunteer, helping with basketball and soccer, eventually working her way up to coaching for SOMO Joy. In addition to this, Kike cheers unified alongside her sister and brought home gold with her in Chicago in 2018.
Kike and Ayaan’s story is retold time and time again through the volunteer family of SOMD. All it takes is one family member, one friend, one neighbor to pull someone into the thick of aiding athletes through multiple forms of competition. In speaking with various volunteers for Volunteer Appreciation Week 2020, it became obvious just how much heart is put into every effort made for Special Olympics Maryland.
For Deputy First Class Amber Blackmire, she explains this heart through the saying of the Law Enforcement Torch Run- “Just one more.” “It’s just one more athlete that we’re helping, now that’s just one more person we’re reaching to educate them about the movement of Special Olympics. It’s just one more person we’re looking to build that relationship between law enforcement and the community, to intertwine everything to really open people’s eyes and educate through our outreach.” Blackmire cites her sister as being a gateway to Special Olympics, having watched her compete through school, with the Torch Run allowing her to connect her love of community outreach with being an ally to athletes.
In volunteering for Special Olympics Maryland, volunteers are exposed to athletes in their most unabridged form. They are competitors, teammates, and individuals, stepping into a field of play with the intent of giving it their best for that day. It may seem intimidating, but Chief John Nesky is quick to dispel this feeling. “The great lie of volunteering with Special Olympics is that you give so much. Well, the truth is you get two times as much as you give, just being around these amazing athletes looking at their perspective, looking at their optimism, their open love that they have for people. You can’t find that anywhere else.” Nesky continues to offer his support to SOMD, his volunteering evolving from a torch run participant, to a board member, and most recently, to a unified partner for Bowling.
What is witnessed during competition has a tendency to stick, from the moment the athletes take the field to experience the joys and the hardships of play. There are experiences that expand beyond the field or the court, born from these moments of realizing not only are the athletes capable of more than they thought, as are the volunteers working with them. Colonel Frank Tewey shares that one of the moments that made his volunteering feel “worth it,” actually took place at the Citizen’s Police Academy with the Anne Arundel County Police Department. Tewey worked with SOMD Athlete Michael Heup, helping him to enroll in the Citizen’s Police Academy and learn the basics of what officers can experience in the Police Academy. Not only did Michael successfully graduate from the academy, but he was the only person in his class to complete the Firearms Training Simulator. “Michael Heup, because he had been around law enforcement so much and just having conversations and knowing how we handle things and being, you know, a hero to the heroes. He was able to successfully do that…I was so proud of that moment.”
These moments are not exclusive to one person, anyone and everyone is welcome to join the Special Olympics Volunteer family. Whether you come alone, or with your own family, we’re ready to welcome you. What should you know before you come? “Be prepared to have fun and to meet a lot of unique individuals, who all have different personalities…be ready to cry, a lot of good things are going to happen and it’s going to bring happy tears,” Words of wisdom from Frederick’s Young Athlete Program Head Coach Diana McLuckie, who along with her husband and daughter Lili open doors for our youngest athletes to participate with the organization.
SOMD is able to provide quality competition and sports programming to athletes across the state of Maryland through the gracious donation of our volunteers’ time and effort. The voices here are but a small sampling of the 6,872 individual stories that exist throughout the state. We would like to thank each and every volunteer who steps onto a field, a court, or into the moment to help our athletes compete in the best circumstances possible. Thank you for not only bringing yourselves, but your families, your coworkers, your friends, or just your passion for creating a world where opportunity is not limited by disability.
Are you ready to be one?
This article was written by Kira Northrop