Tammy Grimm, Local Program Coordinator, Billings; Dawn Curl, Local Program Coordinator Billings/Absarokee; Amanda Minchew, 2024 Adult Volunteer of the Year, Statewide

Volunteer with Special Olympics

April 2024

article by morgan williams | photo courtesy of Special Olympics

In February, we shared how Special Olympics’ Unified Schools Initiative shapes the next generation through school involvement. This month, we offer ways for the community to link arms with Special Olympics. While it’s possible that volunteering will impact an athlete’s life, it’s nearly guaranteed to change yours.  

Values of inclusion, acceptance, and fun weave together an impressive cohort of 5,000+ volunteers across Montana. These volunteers help Special Olympics reach their mission to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in various Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. And provide athletes continued opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendships with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.  

Holly Netz, Director of Marketing and Communications for Special Olympics Montana, says that the talent and heart of enthusiastic volunteers directly contribute to the success of their programs. It’s clear that the big energy of each volunteer is contagious, and Netz noted that it’s not uncommon for folks who start volunteering on their own to suddenly start showing up to events with their whole family in tow.   

In addition to enthusiasm, Special Olympics volunteers are loyal, and it’s clear that most are in it for the long haul. Local Community Coordinator Tammy Grimm has volunteered with Special Olympics for 30 years. A former special education teacher, Grimm, says volunteering is as good for her as it is for the participants: Special Olympics athletes can teach you so much. They teach you how to put your best foot forward when something doesn’t go right and that it’s okay to try again. Mostly, they show you how to have fun.”  

You might wonder whether or not you would be a good fit for the organization - here’s the good news: there is something for everyone. In addition to coaching, there are opportunities to help fundraise, organize events, or even photograph athletes in action. There are also many opportunities to serve with friends or coworkers. While it’s not uncommon for new volunteers to feel ill-equipped, Grimm encourages folks to lay those fears aside, The athletes will help you feel comfortable. All it really takes to engage them is the same compassion and empathy you bring to your own workplace or family.”  

Special Olympics gives participants a chance to shine and compete in sports like other kids do, and perhaps more importantly, it offers typically developing people a small glimpse into a disabled person’s world. Laura Wifler, author and disability advocate, writes, People with disabilities spend their entire lives trying to fit into a world designed for ‘typically-developing’ people. Social norms, able-bodied activities, even the way friendship works - people with disabilities are squeezing, molding, and carving their brains and bodies into what non-disabled people prefer. Here’s a thought: What if able-bodied people spent even just one hour a day trying to understand and fit into a disabled person’s world? Think of how powerful that would be. We could change the actual world.” 

If you want to get plugged in, contact Special Olympics Montana to understand your area’s specific needs and requirements. You can contact the state office via their website at www.somt.org

Ways to Volunteer 

  • Coach or Assistant Coach: Special Olympics offers a range of sports, and coaches are always in demand. Individuals with or without coaching experience and a passion for a specific sport can volunteer to lead or assist in training athletes. 
  • Unified Partner: Become a Unified Partner by participating alongside athletes with intellectual disabilities in sports training and competitions. This fosters inclusion and helps break down stereotypes. 
  • Event Volunteer: Many Special Olympics events, such as competitions and fundraisers, require a significant number of volunteers for various roles like registration, scorekeeping, event coordination, and more. These opportunities are also a welcome opportunity for a business, civic group, or even a book club to sign up and volunteer as a group.  
  • Medical Volunteer: Healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and physical therapists, can volunteer to provide medical support during Special Olympics events to ensure the well-being of the athletes. 
  • Fundraising Support: Assist with fundraising efforts by organizing events, participating in campaigns, or helping to secure sponsorships. This helps ensure the financial sustainability of Special Olympics programs. 
  • Administrative Support: Offer your skills in areas such as data entry, communications, marketing, or administrative tasks to support the day-to-day operations of local Special Olympics chapters. 
  • Photography and Videography: Capture and document Special Olympics events through photography or videography. This helps create memorable moments for athletes and their families. 
  • Law Enforcement Torch Run Volunteers: The Law Enforcement Torch Run is a nationwide group of officers and other employees who work for law enforcement and dedicate volunteer time year-round by putting on fundraisers for the Special Olympics, awarding medals at competitions, and much more.  

Originally printed in the April 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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