Editor’s note: As part of National Volunteer Week, WeAreSOSC.org will highlight a handful of volunteers who have made a difference in the lives of Special Olympics Southern California athletes. Today, we are featuring venue managers. Check back each day to read about how our volunteers spread acceptance and inclusion throughout local communities.
By Christine Baik
Venue Managers help make the sports magic happen, as they are responsible for overseeing all aspects of a competition including logistics and operations. They are known for their organizational skills, motivating leadership, and creating an athlete experience that changes lives, including their own.
They further the vision of acceptance, inclusion, and well-being for people with intellectual disabilities while helping to connect people to the world of sports.
One does not simply become a venue manager. Venue managers first must already have experience volunteering at previous Special Olympics Southern California competitions. Therefore, venue managers are a dedicated kind of volunteer that is committed to help SOSC achieve its mission and spread acceptance and inclusion!
Larry Gholar started volunteering when he was 16 years old, and he has been hooked since day one. It gave his life a bigger purpose and provided him with “a deeper appreciation to all cultures.”
For Larry, volunteering has always been a family affair, starting with his father encouraging his children to volunteer. Now, volunteering has helped create a stronger bond between Larry and his wife, Malori.
The Gholars are major supporters and lovers of SOSC. Larry and Malori have been managers of the basketball venue for Summer Games since 2016 and were also venue managers at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Larry and Malori are parents of former college athletes and current Division I college coaches. With such a strong affinity for sports within their family, Malori said, “The amazing strength, courage and pure perseverance that Special Olympics athletes possess is inspiration, motivating and heart-warming.”
Malori’s favorite moment as a volunteer was when she served as a competition manager during World Games. A basketball team from Africa received hearing aides, and the players were able to hear their coaches’ and parents’ voices for the first time. “Their reactions were priceless,” she said.
The Gholars volunteer because they believe the purpose of life is service to mankind, and they live life with a purpose. Volunteering has giving them a deeper commitment to their community.
Their experience with the athletes has been “life changing in every aspect.” “It will change your life and give you a deeper perspective,” she said.
Nicole Weldon is multi-talented and trained to support SOSC in many ways who has volunteered for nearly a decade. While she given so much of her time and talent to improving the lives of Special Olympics athletes, it’s her life that has change the most from working with them.
Between her time handling tasks at the office of SOSC, she also volunteers as a bocce official and soccer venue manager in the L.A. and San Gabriel region. She is also the soccer venue manager at the Fall Games Championship.
Her status as a venue manager didn’t come overnight. Nicole got involved with Special Olympics through a temp job in 2007 and has been a faithful volunteer at SOSC since 2010.
Volunteering has opened her eyes to the possibilities that the athletes have.
“The things that they can do, the relationships that they can make, the friendships and the attitudes they have for life. It opens you up to a better understanding of who they are,” she said.
She recalled a time during one of her first Summer Games Championships, when she was at the swimming pool, and she got to see firsthand the skills that the SOSC athletes have. In the practice pool, which is shared with Cal State L.A. students, she saw someone “performing strokes flawlessly to a certain extent that any true competitor can do that has no intellectual disability.” With her swimming background, she could tell this person was a great swimmer.
The swimmer rose out of the pool and began to talk with her boss at the time, who was standing next to her.
“I was floored,” Nicole said. “I was actually astounded by how well this athlete performed, and he was just practicing for fun. It just opened my eyes to the skills all of these athletes can have that you just don’t realize and don’t know. It made me look forward to seeing more.”
Along with learning from the athletes, she’s developed friendships with her fellow volunteers. “We’ve developed a family,” she said. “I look forward to all competitions so that I can be around the athletes, but as well as being around the volunteers that I’ve developed a relationship with.
“All you need is an hour with these athletes, and you’ll want to come back all the time.” she declared.