The Dearborn Special Olympics have come a long way.
In 2005, the newly revived organization was comprised of a few families just looking for a way for their kids to get involved in some extracurricular activities.
Now, the group is made up of nearly 40 participants from Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Allen Park, who meet several times weekly at Howe Elementary School for practice.
And that’s not the only way the group has grown. More kids means more sports, including basketball, baseball, bowling, track and field and even snowshoeing.
“We’re trying to add something new every year,” explains parent and organizer Linda Jackson. “We try to widen their horizons so they can learn more skills and become more involved.”
But with expansion comes, of course, the need for more funding.
Parent Joe Pelligrino says the group raises about $6,000 a year. Much of that funding comes from fundraisers with businesses like Applebees and Buffalo Wild Wings. On April 1, they’ll also host their first Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser at the Fr. Patrick O'Kelly Knights of Columbus Hall.
About half of that $6,000 goes toward sending the kids to the Special Olympics Michigan 2012 State Summer Games, which will be held May 31-June 2 this year on the campus of Central Michigan University.
An added expense this year, said Jackson, will be replacing all the uniforms due to a change in the national Special Olympics logo.
“We have to have all new uniforms, shirts, jackets,” she explained. “They all have to be replaced by the end of 2012.”
In future years, they hope to send them to the winter games as well, which are held every February in Traverse City.
However, Pelligrino stressed that for the kids, “It’s not about winning.”
“We want them to grow in every area they can,” he said, “and to get them out and about.”
Likewise, for parents of Special Olympics participants, the organization teaches them to see they children in new ways: as independent people capable of making goals, practicing teamwork, and reaching major accomplishments–which may or may not include coming home with a medal.
“Our biggest goal is the kids … to make sure their lives are a little fuller,” Jackson added. “They can go out and get more experience.”
And parents can find a new network for discussing issues faced by families of children with special needs–a support system that goes way beyond learning to play basketball.
“You find out you’re not alone,” Jackson said. “When (my daughter) Sam was younger, I’d talk to mothers with older daughters. Hopefully, we’re doing that with younger ones now.”
The Dearborn Special Olympics Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser will be held from 1-6 p.m. April 1 at the Fr. Patrick O'Kelly Knights of Columbus Hall. The event will feature raffles, an auction, dinner and a bake sale. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids.