For nearly five decades, Special Olympics Wisconsin (SOWI) has provided fitness training, health education and athletic competition coupled with social, life and leadership skill development to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Across Wisconsin, our athletes and volunteers have built the most positive and supportive communities imaginable over the years. In this unprecedented time of crisis, these communities are more critical than ever.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SOWI offices will remain closed through May 26, 2020. Staff continue to telecommute from home and are working to adapt the services we provide to better support our athletes and communities in the face of significant new challenges. We serve a vulnerable population of nearly 10,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities. 73% of our athletes qualify as low income and they are now facing the additional social and economic effects of the social distancing measures put in place to combat this crisis.
SOWI staff are currently working on a number of innovative programs including virtual health and educational activities and direct support to help our athletes and communities maintain physical health and mental wellness, a sense of community and connectedness, and a vital source for information and support. These programs will be critical both during this immediate period of isolation and in the near future as the effects of COVID-19 ripple through the economy.
New program development to combat the impact of COVID-19 on our community
SOWI Fitness at Home – This new Facebook group is for members of the SOWI and special needs communities who want to stay fit and have fun at home. Staff and members share tips on staying active at home and provide a virtual community where people with and without ID can stay fit, happy and connected, all from the comfort of their homes.
SOWI Live – To engage with our athletes, we are now offering several live programs each week online. SOWI staff and volunteers have come together to create live and interactive tutorials, courses and seminars that bring the SOWI community together to discuss sports, health and so much more.
Wellness Checks and Food Deliveries – SOWI is currently exploring grant opportunities to help the SOWI community stay safe and have their needs met via food deliveries and wellness checks.
Existing programs being adapted for virtual formats
Young Athletes – SOWI and Wisconsin Head Start Association have partnered to bring the groundbreaking Young Athletes program to the comfort of your home.
SOfit – SOWI is converting this Unified wellness program to a virtual format to comply with social distancing recommendations.
Healthy Habits –While Healthy Habits programming is typically provided at education stations during our sporting events, efforts are underway to offer education virtually and via online resources.
Virtual Events and Celebrations – SOWI has traditionally built community and support through large gatherings and events, but in light of social distancing measures, we are pivoting our focus toward building connection and community via virtual events and celebrations. We are excited to announce the Virtual Torch Run for Special Olympics Wisconsin, which invites community members and law enforcement officers alike to participate in a virtual run/walk/bike event to help ‘deliver’ the Flame of Hope to the virtual Opening Ceremony on June 4. For more information about this fun, family event visit SpecialOlympicsWisconsin.org/TorchRun.
How you can help…
Unfortunately, while we are working hard to continue to provide programs, SOWI has been significantly impacted through the cancellation of our events and other fundraising efforts. Sadly, SOWI has been forced to furlough all of its employees over the next few months. Despite this, we are committed to covering their full health insurance premiums during the pandemic.
I wish to thank all of you for your commitment to this organization and the support you’ve provided to the athletes across the state. For those of you who are in a position to make a charitable gift, we hope you will consider supporting us once again as we navigate these uncharted waters. Your contributions will be directed to offset the cost to continue staffing the organization through these difficult times.
Here are a couple ways you can help out:
Giving Tuesday Now: Tuesday, May 5 is Giving Tuesday Now and all donations made to SOWI on this day will be doubled.
Virtual Torch Run: The 2020 Law Enforcement Torch Run will take place as a virtual community run May 30 and June 4 with runs, walks and bike rides occurring in communities statewide. Unite with your community to celebrate the athletes of SOWI while showing support for your local law enforcement officers – especially during the current COVID-19 crisis!
Thank you again for all you do for our athletes,
Kathleen J. Roach, MPH, MBA