By Kelsey Lewis
For Janet Portilla, being part of Special Olympics has meant being part of something greater than herself. It’s about bringing people together from all over the world through sports, kindness and inclusion.
When Janet started interning with Special Olympics Southern California, she didn’t imagine what she was getting herself into. She knew of Special Olympics and its mission, but was never previously involved with the organization.
“One of my first events was the 2014 Summer Games Invitational. I had a few months in but had never experienced the bigger picture,” Janet said. “I was so busy I didn’t even think about stopping to watch… And [then] I stopped. I don’t know what brought my attention to it, but I just started going towards the edge of the border where you can see into the swimming area. I was watching the athletes, and I don’t know… I felt so emotional… It still gets to me. I did get teary; I did cry. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. They are amazing.’”
Looking back on the moment, Janet emphasized the importance of SOSC athletes and how everything the volunteers do within in the organization is for them. It’s trying to get the athlete’s whole world involved so that everyone is united and working together.
“I guess we don’t realize that people are stronger than you sometimes and sometimes we take so much for granted,” Janet said. “There’s just so much out there and when people have the passion to do something they get it done.”
Janet’s curiosity in SOSC was first sparked when she saw Summer Games being held on the campus of California State University, Long Beach. After researching more into the organization, she began her career at SOSC as an intern in 2014. Janet started in the Major Gifts and Grants department, and transitioned to doing Major Gifts, Grants, and Healthy Athletes before being hired by SOSC as the Health Programs Coordinator in 2017.
Her dedication to the organization was prominent not only in her work ethic, but in her school work as well. While completing her Master’s in Sport Management at California State University, Long Beach, Janet wrote her thesis statement on expanding the Healthy Athletes Program. She has since then been able to implement her thesis and watch it prosper once she was hired to work at SOSC.
“Last year, we had about 20 Healthy Athletes events, we went from 2 to about 20,” Janet said. “It’s been really, really amazing to watch. I have been really happy and fortunate to write my thesis and actually work through it and see it be fulfilled. We’re still working on it. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s definitely a huge blessing. It’s been awesome.”
Being a volunteer for Special Olympics was a vital part in Janet’s life. “Once you become a volunteer, you’re hooked for life,” she said. She knows that Special Olympics Southern California will always be there. They’ll always be a family for her. No matter what point in her life she’s in, there’s always a way to help or be part of something bigger—and for that she’s grateful.
“I would like to thank Special Olympics for all the experiences, all of the opportunities, all the trust, just all-in-all, thank you,” Janet said. “They have changed my life for the better, and I feel like a better person for it. It’s been such a blessing. At the end of the day, you’re working to make a difference in somebody’s life. It’s definitely worth it.”