Several have been at it for more than 20 years and now they need your help.
Members of the executive of the Smithers Special Olympics local admit they are tired after many years of dedicated service and hope some members of the community step up to give them a break.
“We’re just trying to hold things together right now,” Gayle Harding, programme co-ordinator with Special Olympics in Smithers said.
“We’re not in a good position.”
Gayle, 72 and her husband Earnie, 74, moved to Smithers from Nakusp on New Year’s Eve, 1983 with their daughter Lorell, who has special needs.
The Hardings were only too aware of how difficult raising a special needs child could be, including finding activities for them to participate in, as well as finding a safe school.
When they arrived in Smithers, the Hardings, wanted to ensure there was programming for Lorell, so they immediately went to work helping to form what is today the High Road Services Society, an organization that provides support for independent living, semi-independent living, teaches self help skills and provides supported employment for people like Lorell.
Then, in 1998, the Hardings signed up their special needs granddaughter, Sheila, with the newly formed Smithers Special Olympics local.
“We were caring for Sheila and there was a need to get her involved in activities in the community,” Gayle said.
“So we enrolled her in bowling with Special Olympics.”
Shortly thereafter, notices were sent out notifying parents Special Olympics in Smithers was likely to disband for a lack of funding and the individuals running the local chapter were looking to retire, so the Hardings volunteered.
“We were happy to fill that role because it meant a great deal to us,” Gayle said.
“We just dug right in.”
The Hardings held the meetings in their own home, with Earnie taking on the role of program co-ordinator, fundraiser and even helped establish a recycling program and a bottle depot, all with the goal of raising funds for Special Olympics in Smithers.
Today, after 14 years of dedicated service to Special Olympics in Smithers and many more years dedicated to programs for special needs children and adults in Smithers and Nakusp, the Hardings are ready to pass the gauntlet.
“Because of our age and the age of the other local executive, we are very concerned about the future of Special Olympics in Smithers.”
“We desperately need a program co-ordinator and we’re willing to help mentor any new volunteers,” she said.
“We need others before it’s too late.”
Ideally, the Hardings hope to recruit a local co-ordinator, treasurer, secretary, volunteer co-ordinator and a media relations person, but most urgent is the need for a program co-ordinator, Gayle said.
The program co-ordinator is responsible for delivering the various Special Olympics sports activities in Smithers, from floor hockey, to bowling and curling to track and field, to name but a few.
Other responsibilities include finding venues and coaches, which Gayle admitted is not an easy task in Smithers.
“It’s almost impossible to get the use of a gym,” she said.
Part of the problem is some of the athletes don’t have families who can drive them to the practices and games.
Limited public transit is available, but only during the day, when gyms are being used by students.
Securing use of a soccer pitch is also difficult, either they’re being used by students or by the local soccer association.
Because most of the activities have to take place during the day, the Smithers Special Olympics local also has difficulty finding available coaches.
For example, Special Olympics soccer practices are scheduled from 4:30 p.m. − 5:30 p.m. However, the coach works until 5:00 p.m. The hope is the coach will be able to leave work early to coach the soccer team.
Another role the Smithers Special Olympics local is hoping to fill is a coach for the curling team. Three people are qualified as helpers, but they aren’t certified to be Special Olympics coaches.
With time and energy dwindling, fundraising has also become difficult and just adds to the now overwhelming load of responsibilities of a tired executive.
“We don’t want to see the end of Special Olympics in Smithers,” Gayle said.
“It’s very valuable to special needs people.”
Those interested in volunteering with Special Olympics can call, 250-847-4719, or 250-847-0529.