On June 12-13, over 4,000 athletes and volunteers will participate in the regional Special Olympics Summer Games in Richmond, Virginia.
For the past 21 years, Springleaf* team members have been volunteering at the Richmond Special Olympics. One of Springleaf's most dedicated volunteers is Springleaf district manager Dana Griffin-Graves, who has been volunteering at the event for the past 16 years. Her welcome message on behalf of Springleaf will be played at the Opening Ceremony.
As part of their mission, Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Participating in Special Olympics programs helps give people with disabilities "a sense of belonging," according to Griffin-Graves.
At the Summer Games, each athlete is paired with a volunteer. Throughout the competition, the volunteer will cheer the athlete on as the athlete competes.
"It's a rewarding event - rewarding for [volunteers] and rewarding for the participants," says Griffin-Graves. "I love the one-on-one interaction. When you're...assigned to one person, you learn about them, their families are there, and it's like you're making a friend."
The athletic events, which range from bocce matches to track and field events, take place on the University of Richmond campus and other locations around the city. Various local companies, including Springleaf, attend and help sponsor the event. Local restaurants offer a variety of different snacks for participants.
Griffin-Graves praises the generosity of the local university, who gives back to the community by hosting this event each year. She describes the local involvement and excitement as akin to that of the international Olympic Summer Games, though on a smaller scale. The atmosphere is supportive and there's "so much positive energy there."
Giving the athletes the opportunity to confidently compete helps them, Griffin-Graves believes, to confidently handle situations outside the bowling lanes or off the courts.
This year, Griffin-Graves, along with volunteers from 10 local Springleaf branches, will administer the Bingo games, calling Bingo numbers and cheering on participants. Many additional volunteers from the local community will help cheer on athletes in each of the other sporting events. Still, more volunteers are always welcome - with more volunteers, the event runs more smoothly.
As Griffin-Graves says, "If it weren't for the volunteers, [Richmond Special Olympics] wouldn't exist...it's the volunteers who allow [the event] to go forward."
By volunteering, you can help give people with intellectual disabilities "a chance to participate in an event where they are...given a chance to compete and they have a chance to win."
To sign up as a volunteer for the Summer Games, visit the registration page. When you register, you will also be entered to win 2 FANtastic prizes.
For more details about the Summer Games, visit the event page.