It was a fitting end to National Volunteer Week last weekend at regional competitions throughout Special Olympics Southern California. Volunteers came out in record numbers to support some of the longer running regional competitions, including the Pomona Valley Area Games at Boys Republic and the San Diego County Athletics Regional at Point Loma Nazarene University.
In Chino Hills, the Pomona Valley Area Games drew the highest number of volunteers in the history of the event. In San Diego, students from Point Loma did what they have done for more than 20 years, come out in big numbers to support the SOSC track athletes.
Among the 190 people at Boys Republic lending their time were soccer teams from Cal State San Bernardino and Citrus College.
Keo Ponce and more than 20 of his teammates from CSUSB were looking for a way to connect with their community. Keo, 22, had previous experience volunteering at Special Olympics Hawaii events when he was in high school.
“To see them out here competing, it’s a fun experience,” he said. “Every single time I’ve done it, it’s really awesome. It’s a cool experience for people to see how competitive they really are.”
At Point Loma, more than 250 students came out to volunteer at the event, including lunch served by the PLNU women’s soccer and volleyball teams. Many other teams served in various roles, too many to count. But once again, they were there in record numbers.
This was the 25th year for the San Diego regional athletics event at PLNU, and it has become part of the student life experience at the university. The student leadership team that works to continually grow and improve the event experience is the secret to the sustained success. Not to mention the more than 250 students that show up every year to work the event.
“This is truly a unique event for us,” said San Diego County Regional Director Brian Richter. “Point Loma and their student leadership are outstanding. They go above and beyond.”
Dr. Jim Johnson joined the PLNU School of Education faculty in 1991, and led the efforts to bring the regional event to Point Loma.
“Personally for me, one of the best events ever, once again our students are the key,” said Johnson. “Comments about their love and genuineness reflect why this event is indeed a premier banner for what PLNU represents to the community and who our students really are as servant leaders.”
Jim began at PNLU coordinating the Special Education program. He currently serves as professor for the School of Education and the Department of Psychology. He teaches undergraduate and graduate education courses in psychology, philosophy/spiritual formation, educational foundations, learning theory, and special education and undergraduate psychology courses in the first year experience program for the Department of Psychology. He plans to retire in the next year.
“Jim is truly an amazing person. He brought Special Olympics here 25 years ago,” said Richter. ” We have been so honored by Jim and his role with Special Olympics San Diego.”
Discovering a Passion
Carson coach Cameron Woods couldn’t have imagined himself with Special Olympics Southern California a few years ago.
But he has always enjoyed putting smiles on people’s faces.
“I love to build people up and encourage,” Cameron said.
A Los Angeles Unified School District employee for the past four years at Ambler Elementary School, Cameron remembered a group of children with intellectual disabilities being picked up by the City of Carson for an after-school program. He was intrigued and wanted to get involved.
About five months later, he’s glad he followed through.
In fact, earlier this month the 30-year-old assisted with the Autism Awareness Walk the same day his Carson athletes competed in basketball at Veterans Park – which played host to both events.
In his short time with SOSC, Cameron has discovered a new outlook.
“I’ve loved it, it’s beautiful,” said Cameron, who was coaching his track and field athletes at the Pomona Valley Area Games. “I get a real passion, a real joy [out of it].
“Even if they don’t medal, they’re still happy just because they participated or they finished a race. That’s what we’re trying to get everybody to learn.”
Inside the SOSC is a blog written by staff member Tracy McDannald. John Shaffer, manager of public relations and social media, contributed to this report. It is a more feature-style approach to looking inside what makes Special Olympics Southern California so unique, so special. It is meant to explore the people and their stories. One word at a time.