“I really don’t care if an athlete can throw a ball,” said a nonchalant Kathy Cramer.
Those are surprising words from the founder and director of SOAR Special Recreation and Special Olympics in the Lowcountry. Just a cursory glance at the SOAR website reveals Special Olympics activities for people with disabilities – tennis, equestrian, bowling, golf, basketball, cheerleading, swimming, and track and field.
“What I do care about,” Cramer continued, “is that these people with special needs are seen and heard through their involvement with SOAR.
“Here in the Lowcountry, we have literally thousands of individuals with disabilities who are essentially ‘invisible people.’ Few places have accommodations for their special needs and, after they age out of the school system, there is a real chance of them becoming lost – home alone with little interaction with the community.”
Giving a voice to the voiceless and recognition to the skills and talents of these SOAR participants gives them a sense of purpose and confidence that lasts long after the Special Olympic medals have been retired to the shelf.
That shy smiling man who helps you with your furniture purchase at Home Goods went to the national games in both golf and tennis.
Rashawn Young became a bit of a local celebrity a few years ago when he brought home gold and bronze medals in equestrian events from the Special Olympics world games in Greece.
Today, Rashawn works as a concierge for an island hotel as well as a second job in retail sales. Just last year, he got his driver’s license and a truck.
SOAR has helped him create a life where he is a vital, visible member of the community, providing him with the resources and support to succeed.
In addition to its annual fundraising, SOAR receives some funding from South Carolina Special Olympics, and a generous sponsorship from the Children’s Relief Fund of Hilton Head Island.
Children’s Relief Fund is a volunteer, non-profit organization started more than 26 years ago by Rose and Frank Fotia, parents of a disabled child. CRF raises funds for various therapies, special equipment, summer programs and many other activities for disabled children in the Hilton Head and Bluffton area.
This year’s “Straight from the Heart” Annual Dinner Dance and Auction will be held March 24 at the Westin Hilton Head Resort. Like all of the past 21 events, this evening of dinner, auctions, entertainment and heartfelt donating will be CRF’s primary fundraiser for the year.
“We may not be celebrating Valentine’s Day at this year’s gala, but that doesn’t mean the room won’t be filled with love,” said CRF founder Rose Fotia. “As our community grows, there is more need than ever to provide for agencies that encourage and lift up our disabled children and teens, making them vital, visible members of society.”
For reservations and information for the Spring Fling, contact Fotia at 843-681-7668 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jane Stouffer is a freelance writer on Hilton Head Island.