By Kelsey Lewis
Parents think of many ways to spend their time once their children become more independent. Some parents travel, others take on home projects. For Kelly Johnson, he wanted to spend his time improving his community. That’s when he decided to get more involved with Special Olympics Southern California. Little did he know, he’d gain back more than what he gave.
Kelly’s involvement with Special Olympics Southern California first aroused over 20 years ago when the company he worked at offered charity board training. He had been involved in charities prior, but strived to contribute more—and has done so ever since.
“When my children became teenagers, I knew that within a few years I would not be spending my spare time watching them play sports,” Kelly said. “I started thinking about meaningful ways to spend my spare time. I had volunteered as a coach with Special Olympics when I was younger, so this time around I decided that board work would be a useful way to give back.”
Kelly was first put in touch with the Orange County Region of SOSC. There, he showed his dedication to being involved and found his way onto the Orange County Regional Leadership Council. Kelly has been on that council for 10 years; he even chaired it for two years.
From there, his involvement within the mission of Special Olympics only grew more. Kelly wanted to help the athletes to the fullest extent possible within the organization and its goal. That’s when Kelly became involved with the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Southern California.
“You kind of stumble into an opportunity that fits you,” Kelly said. “It’s not something I anticipated happening. I work with this fantastic charity… people just look at you in a different way and they trust you.”
His love for Special Olympics was so apparent while on the Board of Directors that Special Olympics Southern California CEO Bill Shumard asked him if he would be interested in being the chair of the board.
“When we were trying to identify who the next board chair should be, Kelly Johnson was the natural choice,” Bill said. “He wants to listen, he wants to learn and he wants to become more aware. He leads by serving others; he’s a consensus builder.”
For Kelly, volunteering is a great opportunity to help people that deserve it. He does it not only because it makes him happy, but for the athletes as well. It’s a point of pride being part of something larger than himself while also being there for them. As the chairman, every decision he makes is for the athletes and giving them the greatest experience possible.
“It’s a neat bond,” Kelly said. “They’re there because it’s a benefit to them, and they’re having fun. I’m there for the same reasons. We’re connected that way. We both choose to be there.”
Kelly recalled one of his favorite memories of being there for the athletes. It was one of the first events he attended at the Irvine High School Games in Orange County.
“There was one guy competing [who] has physical disabilities,” Kelly said. “He basically doesn’t have full functional use of one arm. He was the leading player and the point guard on a high-level team—playing without full use of both arms. I had to leave the gym… You understand there’s all kinds of different ability levels of the people who are involved and to see what this guy had overcome to play at a pretty high level really blew me away. I’ll never forget it.”
As chairman, Kelly’s looking to help the organization continue to grow and be sustainable for years to come. He is there for the athletes as much as he is for the staff and board by attending multiple committees and establishing a great rapport between the board and staff. He hopes that in his three years of leading, the organization will exceed its goals and for the staff and the board to be closer in terms of a working partnership to further support the athletes and their needs.
“His desire to connect with others and do good,” Bill said. “His desire to serve. His desire to make a difference. All of those things are so true about Kelly.”