By Tessa Sechler
Volunteers within Special Olympics could easily be compared to the oil that flows through a machine, allowing everything to run smoothly. From setup, meal services and overall constant support, volunteers are the people that the athletes see most. Special Olympics could not be the success that it is without the work of its volunteers, especially ones like Steve Bolton.
Steve first volunteered at a Special Olympics event in 1983, where he was a hugger for athletes at the end of the track. He says it touched his heart, and ever since then, he has worked to continuously grow in his role as a volunteer. So much so that he is now a part of the Special Olympics Southern California Board of Directors.
“People ask me how I got so involved in Special Olympics, and I just say that it developed a life of its own,” said Steve, who is the Special Olympics Orange County Regional Leadership Council Chair. “People think Special Olympics doesn’t need the ‘Joe’s on the corner,’ and I tell all my volunteers, ‘What you’re doing today is important. It’s the little things you do that changes somebody’s life or puts a smile on somebody’s face.’”
With an attitude like his, it’s not surprising that he not only inspires his volunteers, but his fellow peers as well.
“I consider him to be the consummate volunteer,” said Kris Drummond, former SOSC VP of Development and Steve’s friend. “He’s willing to be a leader or a follower. He’s happy doing whatever the situation or task requires.”
Kris met Steve when she was the Special Olympics Orange County Regional Director, and he was on a committee for a charity golf tournament. After the event, he reached out wanting to discuss more ways to get involved, a quality that continues to characterize his work ethic today.
“I think Steve is a role model not only to volunteers, but to staff and families,” Kris said. “In addition to his commitment, he has such a ‘can-do’ attitude and tireless dedication. He truly has a heart of gold.”
It isn’t just Steve’s volunteer enthusiasm that’s impressive. His determination to get others involved may be even more noteworthy. Steve was the lead in getting the Knights of Columbus, another organization that he volunteers his time with, to prepare meals for the athletes during Fall Games.
“He would not let go. He just kept pushing Special Olympics, Special Olympics, Special Olympics, and now he has much greater support throughout Southern California,” Kris said about Steve’s efforts to expand the number of Knights of Columbus volunteers that attend Special Olympics events. “He’s truly a leader. He just doesn’t give up and… I wish we could clone him.”
In fact, the significance of the relationship between the Knights of Columbus and Special Olympics is something that Steve emphasizes when talking about the importance of their work today. Eunice’s husband, Sergeant Shriver, was a member of the Knights of Columbus and one of the first volunteers of Special Olympics, so Steve finds it only fitting that they continue to support its cause today. “Ever since Eunice said to her friends, ‘my sister has no place to go to associate with other people,’ that little thought that one day, just looking out for her own sister, developed all of this.”
The Knights of Columbus now prepare meals during many Regional Games as well as Fall Games, and their commitment to helping is relentless. During one of those events Kelly Johnson, Chairman of the SOSC Board of Directors, recalled his favorite moment of Steve, one that displayed just what kind of person he is.
“I remember seeing Steve volunteering at the Spring Games in Irvine a few years ago,” Kelly said. “He had a boot on his foot so he was riding around in a cart helping transport food and supplies around the event. He could have stayed home, but he was there volunteering even though it was difficult for him to get around.”
While it’s easy for people to talk about all the things he does, Steve remembers a moment, years ago, that speaks to why he does it all. “This one kid was running, and he was dead last at the race. But at the very end, he’s screaming to mom how happy he was. The mom’s bawling, dad’s bawling, the whole group is bawling. I’m thinking this is really such a neat deal not only for the athletes but for the families. She looks at me and says, ‘He’s never talked that much in his whole life.’ It floored me that it affected her like that.”