Five thousand Maine children and adults with intellectual disabilities, rely on and look forward to the 75 events offered by Special Olympics Maine each year. The athletes train hard and get excited about all of the opportunities they usually have, to be seen for their abilities and not their disabilities. For many of them, the state events are like their state championship. They also look forward to seeing old friends, spending time with their team mates, traveling to other towns for training or competitions, attending the dances, staying in dorms, earning medals and ribbons, getting free health screenings, and having people cheer for them when they compete.
Special Olympics Maine relies on several fundraising events throughout the year, as well as the generosity of others, in order to meet their 1.3 million dollar a year budget and to continue to provide opportunities to their athletes.
Like so many other non-profits, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in all training, social and competitive events in Special Olympics to be canceled through June 10. Regional and state basketball tournaments, Spring Unified sports, State swimming, Spring Games and the largest event of the year, the state Summer Games. In addition, all live fundraising events have been canceled during this time as well.
Within minutes of announcing the cancellations, Special Olympic Maine staff (all five of them) pulled together to begin brainstorming how they would continue to offer opportunities to our athletes to stay physically, mentally and emotionally fit during the quarantine, how to keep them all feeling positive, and to keep them looking forward to events just as soon as we are safe to offer them. (and without money coming in, how would they make all of this happen, and still be able to offer events when the lock down is over)
Social media has been the key. Through Facebook, and Instagram, Special Olympics Maine is offering daily workouts, cooking classes, stress management tips, yoga, stretching, and strong mind activities. Volunteers and staff have been creating videos to share every day and have created a schedule of on line events for everyone to follow.
Mondays are dedicated to fundraising. Special Olympics Maine is holding a raffle, selling tickets for $20 each and the winner will receive three prizes … yes three! A snowmobile, a 4-wheeler, and a Sea-do (Drawing Oct. 30). We are also holding an online Auction; we are encouraging people to shop through Amazon Smile and choose Special Olympics Maine as their charity of choice; and honestly, just hoping that people will send in donations to our state office. We need to make sure that people realize that Special Olympics is important, relevant, and even crucial for many of our athletes.
Tuesdays are dedicated to staying positive … stress relief, meditation, finding activities that are fun and help keep your mind focused on the good things that are happening. Many of our athletes are separated from daily staff, their friends, co-workers and day programs that help keep them active and healthy so staying positive is extremely important.
Wednesdays are Weekly Warrior workouts where volunteers share workout videos of things our athletes and their families can do at home. At the end of each week the athletes get a certificate emailed to them and every four weeks their names go in to a drawing for prizes.
Thursdays we focus on essential workers who are athletes and volunteers. It has been amazing to recognize our athletes who are on the front line but unseen, working in grocery stores stocking shelves, working in factories, or cleaning offices, hospitals, police departments, etc.
Friday is fun day! We offer cooking classes, learning to juggle sessions, opportunities for athletes and supporters to share their talents, and a chance to join the Special Olympics staff on themed Zoom parties etc.
Throughout the week we will also be offering Healthy Athletes Tips from our Healthy Athletes clinical directors, and students at USM and UNE, covering things like taking care of your teeth, your hearing, your feet, etc. (Through Healthy Athletes we annually offer free health screenings at our state summer games, which will not be offered this year).
Information and activity kits are being mailed to families who do not have access to internet.
The response has been incredible … hearing from parents who say they cannot imagine how they would get through this time with their child who has autism or an intellectual disability, if it were not for the activities we are offering to keep them busy, active, involved and excited to see what’s coming next. Athletes are calling and messaging us daily telling us how much fun they are having. It’s great to see them having things to look forward to.
In addition to what we are offering our athletes, we are also trying to give back. We have dozens of athletes sending videos and messages out to our sponsors and supporters thanking them for everything they have done for us in the past, and reminding them of how much they mean to us. We are also doing thank yous to essential workers.
Despite the fact that very little money is coming in right now, we cannot stop. Our athletes rely on us and we will continue to do all we can for them. If you would like to check out some of the fun things we are up to, please visit us at https://www.facebook.com/SpecialOlympicsMaine/?ref=bookmarks and visit us on You Tube to see some of our workout videos, cooking videos, or inspirational videos. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLzReuMO78cpdNSl6OQcMrQ?view_as=subscriber
If you would like to purchase a raffle ticket or make a donation please contact us at 207-879-0489, or mail to Special Olympics Maine, 125 John Roberts Road, Unit #5, South Portland, ME 04106.