This past week of events around Special Olympics Southern California included the 2019 Tri-Valley Glendale Regional Spring Games and Tip-A-Cop fundraisers at Claim Jumper restaurant locations.
Young Athletes Provides a Foundation
Jonathan Tiu sees his 10-year-old son, Luca, and wonders what life may look like without Special Olympics. Maybe it includes weekends sitting around the house, watching TV, or a trip to a nearby park, but nothing nearly as valuable as this particular Saturday at Crescenta Valley High School in La Crescenta.
Luca, a third-year athlete with Special Olympics Tri-Valley, had just won a silver medal in one of the four track and field events on his slate. During the 100-meter race, he flashed a wide smile to the volunteers and spectators as he sprinted down the track.
It’s a moment, his father said, that was made possible by first going through the Special Olympics Young Athletes program.
“He did two or three years in the Young Athletes program,” Jonathan said. “They started training them first and that was very helpful. They taught him basic stuff like jumping, running, catching, following directions. It [gave him] that whole feeling of what it’s like to be part of a team.
“It’s very emotional. When I see him running and being happy, it’s really special. … We get to see him participate in things other kids get to participate in.”
In addition to track and field, the event also featured basketball and bocce competitions. More than 200 volunteers, including the Crescenta Valley High School baseball team, assisted in roles ranging from setup to scorekeeping.
It was the school’s 10th year serving as host to the Games.
Raising Awareness One Meal at a Time
Last Thursday, local Claim Jumper restaurants around Southern California were filled with not just their normal staff, but Special Olympics athletes and law enforcement as well.
The Tip-A-Cop fundraiser, where law enforcement and athletes accompany servers to their tables throughout the night, helps raise donations for local Special Olympics Southern California programs. It’s a great way for the community to see how law enforcement and the athletes work together, and what better way to do that than to serve them side by side.
In all, 17 restaurants participated in the event and raised nearly $48,000. WeAreSOSC.org was in attendance at the Buena Park, Burbank and Long Beach locations.
For Buena Park Chief of Police Corey Sianez, spending time with the athletes and restaurant visitors is what matters most. His decision to participate was a no-brainer.
“My favorite thing about doing events like this is the interaction with the Special Olympics athletes, and also the community,” he said. “You realize that the community really cares and they want to give as well so it kind of connects the [athletes] and the whole Special Olympics cause with the community.
“Why wouldn’t you be involved? I mean you look at these [athletes] and all that they do, and they have a lot of challenges in their lives. So anything we can do to help them and be a partner with them, that’s what it’s all about.”
Kimberly Unland, captain at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and a Special Olympics Southern California board member, was in attendance at the Burbank location.
Over the years, the connection with the athletes has made a lasting impact.
“I didn’t really get it until I went to Summer Games,” she said. “That’s when I met the athletes and fell in love with Special Olympics. This is just one of the fun events we get to do.”
In Long Beach, what started off as a slow day started to pick up once the event got going, said Brett Lowe, the general manager of the location. He told his servers and waiters to “just wait” and surely enough several coaches and Special Olympics supporters started to stroll in for a meal.
“This event is so amazing because of the community support,” he said. “Our staff loves to run around, and it just shows everybody is willing to pull together to make this event special.
“We get people begging to work the shift. You’ll come back next year and the same people are on. It’s just a whole different way of serving.”
Local athlete Lorna Murakami assisted Long Beach Police and California Highway Patrol officers and explorers in attendance. As the officers made their way around the tables, Lorna was sorting through the Law Enforcement Torch Run T-shirts that visitors purchased throughout the night.
For Lorna, a Special Olympics athlete since 1982 who even has the logo tattooed on her right shoulder, the “friendly” environment draws her to the event.
“[The officers] do an excellent job,” she said.
Inside the SOSC is a blog written by staff member Tracy McDannald. Volunteers Tessa Sechler and Austin Gould 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.