When history is made this summer and the Special Olympics World Games come to Los Angeles, Orange will do its part as a Host Town. From July 21-24, Orange will house, feed and entertain 100 Special Olympians from Canada and Senegal.
“This is the first time the Special Olympics World Games are coming to Southern Califor-nia,” says Old Towne resident Priscilla Selman, one of the lead volunteers in the hospitality effort for the Host Town Orange Com-mittee. “Anaheim is also hosting Special Olympians, as are other cities up and down the coast. The experience is meant to give the athletes a taste of California.”
“The fact that Special Olympians from around the world will be visiting Orange is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence,” says Joann Waldron, a longtime volunteer for the year-round sports training and competition program founded in 1968 for individuals of all ages with intellectual disabilities. Waldron is the mother of Pete, now 57, who competed in the 1971 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Alaska. She is currently on the Leadership Training Board for the Special Olympics Orange County.
Hosting athletes as Orange will do this summer is an important task, says Waldron. “Their visit here will give them a chance to get acclimated and limber up so they’re ready to go when the games take place. The visit will also give the community of Orange a chance to meet these athletes who have worked so hard to get to where they are,” says Waldron, who has seen the organization do great things for Special Olympians and society as a whole.
“The visit and attending the world games gives people a chance to see that developmental disabilities are common around the world and that those with disabilities are capable of many achievements,” says Waldron. “When Pete was born, the doctors told me to institutionalize him. Back then individuals with disabilities were closeted away. The Special Olympics has brought developmentally disabled people out into the sunshine and allowed them to develop into contributing, tax paying members of society. Pete has worked for 30 years as a fulltime employee of the state of California.”
The Special Olympics teaches those with developmental disabilities valuable life lessons, agrees David Armendariz, Regional Director for the Special Olympics Orange County. “It’s not just about mastering a sport. They develop self-confidence and self-esteem and improve communication skills.”
Plans for the athletes’ stay in Orange are still being firmed up. So far organizations that will be extending hospitality to the Special Olympians include Taco Bell, the Kiwanis Club and the Knights of Columbus. In order to make the experience as memorable as possible, the Host Town Orange Committee is seeking donations. Donate through the Community Foundation of Orange website by clicking on the Donate tab: www.communityfoundationoforange.org
“We want to make these special folks feel welcome and celebrated,” says Selman. “It is a real achievement for them to have met their challenges and to have risen to the top of their sports. And for many, it will be their first visit to the United States.”
The Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015 (LA2015) will run from July 25-Aug. 2.
For more information, visit www.specialolympics.org