As part of our In the Community Conversations, Thunderbirds’ Big Chief Tim Woods checked in with CEO of Special Olympics Arizona (SOAZ) Jamie Heckerman via virtual conference call to discuss the current challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, rally community support and communicate immediate and essential needs so SOAZ can continue to serve the community at large.
For people with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics Arizona is often the only place where they have an opportunity to participate in their communities and develop belief in themselves. For athletes, Special Olympics sports provide a gateway to empowerment, competence, acceptance and joy. The lessons learned in Special Olympics also impact their life skills. Sports training enhances focus and gives participants a structure for learning important lessons about perseverance, endurance and setting goals.
Thunderbirds Charities, the charitable giving arm of The Thunderbirds – hosts of the Waste Management Phoenix Open – has been a long-time supporter of SOAZ, recently providing a $1 million donation to fund the completion of their new State Competitions Distribution and Training Center.
“Normally this is our very busy time of year. We have our summer games that are usually right around the corner. Unfortunately, this year that’s not happening,” said Heckerman. “We’ve really had to rethink some of the programming we normally deliver and figure out how we can do that in a different way.”
One of the major changes SOAZ is implementing to combat the effects of the pandemic is moving programming to a digital platform with an emphasis on connectivity and movement.
“On April 6 we launched SOAZ connected, where we’re providing content digitally for our athletes. This is meant to make our athletes think to be more healthy and engage in the community,” said Heckerman. “Also, we’ll be conducting health lessons online, fitness videos in real time, e-sports and other health and fitness content.”
Heckerman also mentioned a desire to create a certain amount of normalcy during these trying times by conducting digital versions of popular events.
“The summer games athlete dance is the highlight of any competition that we put on,” said Heckerman. “Through a program called house party, we’ll have a volunteer DJ that we’ll set up and play music and our athletes can just dance and see their friends and still engage in that way and bring our community back together.”
How can the community help SOAZ?
“We have realized through this that a lot of people out there that have time and talent that aren’t necessarily utilized,” said Heckerman. “If someone has a talent in art or the ability to do a fitness video or knowledge in karate they can share with our athletes, we’re looking for something to share that would engage with our athletes and allow them to have fun.” CLICK HERE To Support and Donate to SOAZ.
Special Olympics Arizona
2455 N Citrus Rd, Bldg. 64
Goodyear, AZ 85395
Phone: (602) 230-1200
Check out the new SOAZ website!