COVINGTON, Ga. — It’s that incredible time of the year again.
It’s the time of year when a community rallies together to provide a day of excitement and emotion that is unmatched across any other event.
It’s the multi-day experience that shows the heart of a community and how much they care about a fantastic group of community residents.
It is the Special Olympics, an event that provides children and adults with special needs a platform to express themselves athletically and socially despite facing so many challenges in their day-to-day lives.
The display of the local community’s heart is well documented throughout the week with the efforts of countless volunteers from elementary, middle and high school kids, to corporations, local agencies, high school athletes, business leaders, etc. Whether they are buddying up with the athletes, working a station or handing out awards, their efforts never go unnoticed.
But for event coordinators Latrelle Cawthon and Brooke Ramsey, there are behind the scenes efforts that are just as powerful in making sure the Special Olympics events happen every year.
A new addition to the team of unsung heroes came from HB Fuller, who joined BD as one of a few corporations who donate in various ways.
“HB Fuller joined us this year,” she said. “They donated all the drinks that we gave, and they came and volunteered on Tuesday.”
Ramsey noted the planners of this event and how much determination it takes to make the week special for the athletes.
“We have a planning team that meets monthly to plan different events, and of course, track and field we spend months planning on,” she said. “It is huge coordination for all the volunteers in the community.”
Cawthon added that even the teachers and county transportation workers have an incredible slate of planning to do before the three-day event, whether they volunteer at the games or not.
For teachers, little things such as registering kids and taking down shirt sizes go a long way in making sure the week runs smoothly. As for transportation, it is their job to get everyone to and from the event safely and effectively, which can be a challenge in the middle of a weekday.
But perhaps the biggest outside involvement of the county’s Special Olympics activities comes from the money donations received from groups like the Covington Police and Covington Ford.
“It’s everything,” Cawthon said. “The school system provides our transportation, but then we have to pay registration fees, rental to the skating rink, bowling game fees, all of the t-shirts the kids are wearing, the equipment, ribbons, metals. There’s a budget.”
Ramsey added that United Way donations are huge as well.
Along with those donations, Covington Police added $2,000 of its own money, while Covington Ford, the event’s platinum level sponsor, gave up $5,000 to ensure the event happened.
Being a donation-funded organization — while not the standard among special Olympics group — is a big advantage based on current political discourse surrounding government funds for Special Olympics events around the nation.
Last Tuesday United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, proposed widespread education cuts, including an $18 million slash to the nationwide Special Olympics budget.
In a bit of rebuttal, President Donald Trump pushed back on that plan Thursday, citing the importance in continuing to find government dollars to fund Special Olympics programs.
Whether or not this cut happens remains to be seen, but Cawthon did not hesitate to inform people on her Facebook page that those cuts would not affect the county Special Olympics in any way.
“Covington supports us so much,” Cawthon said. “The Knights of Columbus raised funds for our parade which cost $1,000 to do. We are under Special Olympics Georgia, which is under Special Olympics International which is where the proposed cuts would happen, but the only funds we see from them are for registering kids to go to state games, but other than that, we are all locally funded.
“This is a good program where people know that the funds are going to impact the kids directly.”
Cawthon added that Newton County is “unusual” in the sense that a lot of the surrounding counties do not have special Olympics programs anymore.
“I will say something as far as Newton County and this area go,” Ramsey said. “It is a very inclusive community. Most counties are not able to fund special Olympics to this level as we do. Newton is unique in being able to do that because of the donations from the community.”
As far as the donations received, both Ramsey and Cawthon are looking for growth as the games itself grow in the county and are not sitting in complacency.
“As the director, I would love to see this program continue to grow with more activities throughout the year, and even bringing in different sports,” Ramsey said.
“We’re growing because of the numbers already,” Cawthon said. “More people are moving to Covington. What I want to see grow is having volunteer coaches help grow the programs outside of the schools.”