At Special Olympics Wisconsin, we like to say that volunteers are the backbone of the organization.
And it’s true: Special Olympics Wisconsin would not exist today without the time, energy, and dedication of thousands of volunteers. In 2017 alone, nearly 8,000 generous people gave up some of their weekends or evenings to help ensure our athletes have the very best Special Olympics experiences possible.
The largest group of volunteers are coaches, who make up nearly half of the volunteer pool. But the second largest group are the day-of volunteers who help make sure each event runs smoothly and is an unforgettable experience for athletes and fans alike. Nearly 40 percent of our volunteers are day-of helpers like Erin Whiting of Neenah.
“Every event I’ve attended or volunteered at has been so incredibly rewarding. Not because I’m volunteering my time to help out, but because the love and happiness these athletes display is infectious.”
Since 2016, Whiting has either volunteered at area events like the State Flag Football Tournament or coordinated volunteers for Special Olympics on behalf of her employer, Kimberly-Clark. Like with many volunteers who come back year after year, her Special Olympics roots run deep. “My involvement with Special Olympics as a whole goes back to 2014. I was introduced to Special Olympics by my sister and brother-in-law who have been active volunteers for several years,” Whiting said. “My brother-in-law’s aunt has been a Special Olympics athlete for many years, so it was important to me not only to support this amazing organization, but to also support my family and extended family as well.”
Thanks to her affinity for Special Olympics Wisconsin and her role on an employee resource group (ERG) at Kimberly-Clark called Capabilities First, whose mission is to create pathways to success for employees and future employees with disabilities, Whiting has become an important nexus between Kimberly-Clark and Special Olympics in the Fox Valley and beyond.
The number of Kimberly-Clark volunteers that Whiting coordinates varies from event to event, but she typically arranges for anywhere from five to more than 20 Kimberly-Clark employees to help out at Special Olympics events. The most popular event for the crew to work consistently is the state flag football tournament held every fall at nearby Neenah High School. The Kimberly-Clark crew helps in a number of different ways, from concessions, to awards, to refereeing games.
“While picking one favorite memory is nearly impossible, I had the opportunity of seeing the opening ceremony for the Summer Games this year, and that brought me to tears.”
But no matter the event or the assignment, a Special Olympics Wisconsin event is always memorable for Whiting. “Every event I’ve attended or volunteered at has been so incredibly rewarding,” Whiting said. “Not because I’m volunteering my time to help out, but because the love and happiness these athletes display is infectious.”
The infectious energy that is a hallmark of a Special Olympics Wisconsin event was especially on display for Whiting when she attended her first State Summer Games in Stevens Point as a volunteer last year. “While picking one favorite memory is nearly impossible, I had the opportunity of seeing the opening ceremony for the Summer Games this year, and that brought me to tears,” Whiting said.(The video shown at the 2018 State Summer Games to commemorate Special Olympics’ 50th anniversary)
Special Olympics Wisconsin is grateful to have people like Whiting to keep the organization standing tall for the 10,000 athletes in the state. But with an athlete base that only serves one in 14 individuals with intellectual disabilities in the state, Special Olympics Wisconsin aspires to get even more athletes on the playing field in the future. And more athletes will mean more volunteers that will be needed to keep the Special Olympics Wisconsin experience truly first-rate.
To that end, for anyone considering volunteering at a Special Olympics Wisconsin event, Whiting has two simple, yet emphatic words of advice: “Do it!”