Special Olympics Holds Ninth Annual Gala

On Saturday, July 9, Leon County Special Olympic of Florida held its Ninth Annual Gala for Tallahassee Special Olympic athletes at the Doubletree by Hilton.

The event was held to raise awareness and funds for the local athletes who participate in the special Olympic games and also recognize the individuals that make Special Olympic possible here in Tallahassee.

Throughout the year, the Special Olympic athletes are not charged to participate in the games. So the proceeds from the Gala will go towards the athletes to purchase new uniforms and equipment, rent facilities for practices and provide transportations to state and national competitions

To be a part of the Special Olympic Gala, the cost was $40 per person. The attendees enjoyed the selection of chicken, veggie or steak course meals served with a slice of delicious lemon pie. They also have a chance to win prizes with raffles give-a-ways and opportunity to bid on items donated by local businesses in a silent auction.

About 150 people were in attendance including Special Olympic athletes with their families, volunteers and local businesses owners that sponsors or make contributions to the organization.

“This event has grown over the years,” said Anika Fields, gala coordinator, who started the fundraiser. “The first time I think we had maybe 50 to 60 people, now we have about 150 people that come every year.”

Despite the progression the event made over the years, Fields said she still want the event to get “bigger and bigger.”

This year’s keynote speaker was Sherry Wheelock, president and CEO of Special Olympics of Florida.

She spoke about the progression of Special Olympics of Florida and about the hard work that the Tallahassee region is putting in with these athletes.

Wheelock said she was honored to be Keynote speaker.

“The most important thing is that this movement and mission is a very grassroots,” said Wheelock. “It’s all about the local people, the coaches, the volunteers and the athletes. So I really honored to be here in the community in Leon County to be able to celebrate with that team.”

Throughout the evening, some of the special Olympic athletes contributed with speaking and giving out awards to the other athletes, coaches, volunteers and local contributors for all the hard-work and dedication that was put into the Special Olympics.

One award that was awarded was the “School Based Coach of the Year. That was awarded to Cory Gaines, who is employed at Chiles High School working in the classroom, coaching football and coaching Special Olympics. 

Gaines, who’s been a part of Special Olympics of Florida for two years, said he loves to see the athletes “grow.”

He added that he loves, “Seeing the athletes come from nothing to something being able to learn a skill and master it.”

Gaines believes that working with these athletes doesn’t only make a difference in the athlete life, but in their own personal life.

“It taught me patience and more patience. I look at things differently because the kids I coach at Special Olympics don’t have the same abilities as regular kids. So when the athletes reach their goals that’s rewarding too me,” said Gaines.

Special Olympics of Florida-Leon County encourages more people like Cory Gaines to get involve with these athletes. They are seeking caring people who understand that they can play a significant role in these athlete’s lives. You can volunteer, coach or make a tax-deductible donation to the Special Olympic Florida-Leon County.