More than 300 students from a number of local schools converged on Dublin High School recently for the Special Olympics Northern California (SONC) Tri-Valley Elementary Track & Field Competition, presented by Ellie Mae.
Students in special education had an opportunity to enjoy a fun day in the sun and engage in a variety of track and field activities, including the 50-meter dash, mile race and numerous skills drills. Students in general education joined the athletes and supported them as timers, volunteers and running-mates to encourage a spirit of inclusion.
“The kids love it,” said Celine Yates, a Special Day Class teacher at Joe Michell Elementary School. “I love that there’s so many different activities here for them to do. I really love it, the kids are really enjoying it and it’s an excellent atmosphere here.”
The event was supported by Ellie Mae both as a presenting sponsor and in terms of volunteers. More than a dozen employees dedicated their time to interact with the athletes and help create a memorable day for everyone involved.
“This has been a great volunteering opportunity for us,” said one Ellie Mae volunteer. “Ellie Mae encourages all of its employees to take a day off every quarter to contribute to the community. We are getting so much out of the community so it’s our duty to give it back. It’s really nice to be here and see the kids’ smiles on their faces as they take part in this event. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for us.”
Ellie Mae Cares, the company’s community outreach program, supports local organizations through paid volunteer days and matching contributions to certain company-sponsored fundraising events. The program has worked with numerous philanthropic organizations including the American Red Cross, Feeding America, Make-A-Wish Foundation and more.
For many at Ellie Mae, this was their first experience at a SONC event. But it may not be their last.
“Special Olympics is such a wonderful thing,” said an Ellie Mae volunteer. “We are all parents and all have families. We all want our kids to grow up in an environment that is conducive to everybody. This is a good cause!
Seeing the kids’ smiles on their faces - oh my gosh, it’s amazing. You know, some of the kids struggled to get to the finish line but always had smiles on their faces. Some kids just didn’t stop and just wanted to keep running! The smiles on their faces when they saw the other kids come and cheer for them, their friends and classmates, that’s also wonderful to see. I saw a lot of older kids coming here to volunteer too, so it’s great that we are building the next generation the right way.”
The SONC Schools Partnership Program is an inclusive sports and education initiative that empowers students with intellectual disabilities by helping to teach life-lessons such as teamwork, social interaction and confidence through sports. The program also focuses on inclusion, bringing together students in special and general education as teammates to encourage friendship and understanding at an early age.
And for Yates, seeing her students get their opportunity in the spotlight is what it’s all about.
“They get to see that they’re worthwhile and they’re a valuable person when they see all of us here to celebrate them,” she said. “They feel that pride and they feel accomplishment, too, and that’s so important. I think that’s something really invaluable that Special Olympics provides that opportunity for them.”