Parent and coach Jerry Hincka has written in the past about his dreams for his daughters, Special Olympics athletes Molly and Charlotte Hincka. The Hinckas were told by doctors many years ago that neither of their daughters would ever walk nor talk but thanks in large part to Special Olympics, Molly and Charlotte are active, confident, and involved in their communities. In this heart-felt guest post Jerry shares with us how Special Olympics has also changed him, and has the power to transforms those around athletes.

My wife Kerry has always been very open and accepting of every type of person.  I, on the other hand, used to be a bit apprehensive about people with intellectual disabilities. Even after I had daughters with special needs, I was still concerned about saying or doing the wrong thing and upsetting someone. I also imagined that any relationship I had through Special Olympics would be one-sided, and that I would always be the one ‘giving’ while not receiving much in return.

Boy was I wrong!  Yes, I coach, I chaperone, and I organize.  But in doing so, I have developed many real friendships where there is plenty of give and take. I feel deeply enriched by the relationships I have developed with athletes, coaches and volunteers.

As Special Olympics parents, Kerry and I have witnessed many transformative moments.  It is so inspiring to see an athlete who formerly couldn’t walk running down a track to a cheering crowd, or an autistic child who couldn’t connect socially, develop into an unselfish teammate on the basketball court. These things happen every day in Special Olympics.

What really amazes me is how Special Olympics has the power to transform communities.  This organization reaches far beyond the boundaries of training sessions and competitions; impacting neighborhoods, schools and people’s way of thinking about and seeing one another. Transformation is not reserved exclusively for the athletes, but extends to people who are encountering individuals with intellectual disabilities for the first time.  Countless times as a coach, parent and volunteer, I have watched someone who is apprehensive about interacting with an athlete do a complete 180 and have the most enjoyable and uplifting volunteer experience imaginable.   I know people who volunteered for a Special Olympics event in the past who are now pursuing careers as special education teachers, social workers, or in other philanthropic professions.

The story always starts in the same way – with someone wanting to help another person.  By volunteering with Special Olympics, you can help an athlete with an Intellectual Disability enjoy competition. Great, right?  It is great.  What a wonderful thing to do.  But the volunteer ends up gaining as much, or more, than the people they are helping.  By helping a person participate in a simple activity that everyone can relate to – kicking a ball in a goal, racing someone down the track – we integrate people with Intellectual Disabilities into the community, and transform that community for the better.

For my daughters who have ID, participation in Special Olympics has been a remarkably eye-opening experience.  Since various teammates need different levels of support, the biggest thing Molly and Charlotte have taken away from Special Olympics is the understanding that they can help others.  It truly is a TEAM effort.  My girls need help with certain tasks, but they are able to help others with some things.  It has truly transformed the service-life of our family.  Charlotte and Molly volunteer at the local food bank, at a monthly dinner that our church hosts for the community, and have developed strong bonds with residents of an Alzheimer’s Center where Kerry volunteers.  Seeing our girls share their special gifts with others has provided Kerry and me with some of our proudest moments as parents.

My wife and I were told by doctors many years ago that neither of our daughters would ever walk nor talk.  Thanks in large part to Special Olympics, they do that and much more today.  They have competed in varsity athletics at school, are active in our church and community and, get this, are able to hold jobs.  That means that they will become taxpayers; supporting communities with their dollars, as well as their time!  Special Olympics is an essential piece of any community where people with special needs are allowed to thrive.

As a father of children who have competed in both high school sports and Special Olympics, I have watched costs rise dramatically in the past decade.  My daughter Charlotte was a captain on the high school cross country team last year and the participation fees were astronomical. In contrast, Special Olympics provides training, support, community and participation for some of our neediest neighbors at no charge to them or to their families. Of course it is YOUR generosity and sacrifices that make this possible.

Thank you for your support!

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