Newton County's special athletes are losing an advocate and a friend to retirement, Pam Dew.
She's an adaptive physical education teacher and also has been the coordinator for Newton County Special Olympics since its inception 23 years ago. She didn't start out with the goal of dedicating her life to children with special needs, but that changed in her freshman year of college.
Dew was working on a degree in physical education and English at Purdue University, and on Saturdays she helped with a program for adaptive physical education. She was hooked.
"I knew right away that I wanted to work with children with special needs," she said.
Her first job was in Indiana where she taught junior high special education. When she moved to Georgia in 1974, she got a job teaching physical education at Porterdale Elementary and worked with special needs students one day a week. She went on hiatus after having her first child, then returned to the system six years later as a special education teacher at Cousins Middle. She left the system again to have a second child and when she came back it was to cover for Ficquett's adaptive physical education teacher, who was going on maternity leave. That teacher decided not to return and Dew got the spot. She's been at Ficquett ever since.
"There's something about children with special needs that just touched my heart," she said. "Their willingness to try anything, the way that everything you do for them is wonderful... they are just so accepting of anyone and just such loving children... They haven't experienced the world in the way that other people have and so they are able to hold on to their innocence. It touched my heart and I knew it was something I wanted to do. I've always been a supporter of the underdog, anyway, and this went along with that."
Although Dew didn't give much thought to retirement, with budget constraints she would have to increase the amount of schools she floated to from four to nine in the coming school year.
"When you reach a certain age, things get a little harder," she said with a laugh. "I knew next year would be difficult and I thought this might be a good time for somebody younger to take over this job."
While Dew is stepping down from teaching and from coordinating the Special Olympics, but she'll never step down from her "special kids."
"It's the kind of thing you can't give up on. I think that once you really get involved in the program - doing hands-on things with these children - I don't see how you could walk away, at least I can't walk away from it."
Special Olympics and the education of special needs children were so important in Dew's family that her daughter is now the special education coordinator in Rockdale County. Her son became an engineer but his love for special needs children has not waned and he continues to volunteer with Special Olympics.
Dew also helped get a program started for special needs adults since there are so few things available. They participate in several social events and a bowling program.
"That is something I am really proud of and it has been a wonderful thing."
Her pride in the programs she has been instrumental in establishing in Newton County doesn't stop her from being modest about her accomplishments.
"I feel like they are my special kids but I don't feel like I'm doing more than anyone else would do," she said. "I'm a 21-year breast cancer survivor and I've often said that's why I'm here. I think that besides my family and my children, these are my children and this was my mission."