Stokes County has a long tradition of hosting Special Olympics and participants can soon expect even more exciting opportunities in the months to come.
Mitzi Britt, who began Inspire Stokes in 2011, a parent support group established to provide activities and spread awareness for children in Stokes County with developmental disabilities, is partnering with Ashleigh Parker, an Exceptional Children teacher at West Stokes to elevate the annual event.
The two have requested to implement Special Olympics Young Adults, a sport and play program geared towards children under eight-years-old with intellectual disabilities.
“We’d like to see this utilized at the kindergarten and elementary level. We’re working on getting the local middle and high school program into the PE curriculum, similar to what Forsyth County does,” Britt said.
In the near future, Britt is hoping to offer Special Olympics in the spring and fall and eventually bring it to Stokes four times a year through community support and involvement.
“We’ve been working on this, but it officially begins with the new school year. We have a group raising money now and they’ve been to businesses who have been very supportive and generous. They’re really excited to help,” she said.
Britt was a volunteer during the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Raleigh in June of 1999 on the campuses of NC State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University.
“Pine Hall was a host town and we hosted Namibia. It was a great experience. We fed them and took the athletes back and forth to Raleigh. I was really able to see firsthand the big picture and how things work.”
At the time, Britt’s son was only a year old, and he’s now part of West Stokes Exceptional Children’s program. She’d like to see him have those same opportunities, whether it’s playing a sport at the county level, regional or even further.
“There are so many sports through Special Olympics we could offer. We know it’s ambitious, but we believe there are people who would love to be a coach or volunteer.”
Britt warns, volunteering is highly addictive.
“These are such special people. To me, they act the way we’re all supposed to. And they just want to be accepted into their community.”
Britt said parents often feel isolated raising special needs children, but they share a common bond.
“We want our children to be a part of something, whether it’s a team sport or something they do individually. And we want our community to know who they are and cheer them on. They’re just like everyone else who desire a sense of belonging.”
As a classroom teacher, Parker said she knows her students will appreciate the option to move on to the next level of competition if they win a red or blue ribbon.
“I think it’s a very positive direction we’re headed in. It’s quite a strenuous task and we’ll need to pace ourselves, but it’ll be worth it,” she said.
Parker has a young sister with autism and she’s passionate about offering the same opportunities to her as other students in Stokes County.
“We do a great job supporting football and soccer and softball and so many other sports. I appreciate that, but it’s time we rally around these amazing young people,” she said. “We just need willing people to step up to the plate.”
The possibilities are endless, Parker said.
After reviewing what Special Olympics offers, she found 18 options that haven’t been done in the county.
“Golf, softball, cheerleading, powerlifting, archery, basketball and that’s just to name a few. I didn’t realize so many things were recognized through Special Olympics until we sat down with our district leader. It just takes one person willing to say I don’t mind spending one Saturday a month with these awesome kids.”
There’s currently 135 participants signed up for this year’s Special Olympics on April 27 at West Stokes, but Parker believes there’s more who would get involved if given the chance.
“Once they leave the school program a lot of times the opportunity to participate is lessened because there’s a lack of communication if they’re not involved in Stokes Opportunity Center or an assisted living facility. I believe we can do better.”
For more information, volunteering opportunities, or to learn more about the sports offered in Special Olympics plan to attend Friday, May 11, 6:30 p.m. at West Stokes School Cafeteria (1400 Priddy Road in King) or email Ashleigh Parker at Stokes@sonc.net
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.