Special Olympics North Carolina names 2018 Golisano Health Leadership Award Honorees

Atrium Health’s Carolinas Rehabilitation and Jen Roberts, PT, DPT receive North Carolina’s top Special Olympics health honor for their contributions toward inclusive health

Special Olympics North Carolina has announced the selection of two 2018 Golisano Health Leadership Award honorees, according to Special Olympics NC President/CEO Keith L. Fishburne. 

The Golisano Health Leadership Award was established in 2016, in partnership with Special Olympics International and the Golisano Foundation and is given to an individual and/or organization that is dedicated to improving the health of people with intellectual disabilities and advancing the health work of Special Olympics. 

The two North Carolina honorees are Jen Roberts, PT, DPT, of High Point and Atrium Health’s Carolinas Rehabilitation of Charlotte.     

“Special Olympics athletes in North Carolina are fortunate to have healthcare partners like Carolinas Rehabilitation and Jen Roberts assist with SONC’s health and wellness strategies.  The partnerships with Special Olympics NC will significantly improve the health of children and adults with intellectual disabilities,” explained Fishburne. 

Carolinas Rehabilitation 

Since 2015, Carolinas Rehabilitation has been one of Special Olympics North Carolina’s strongest partners in the efforts to improve access to quality health care for individuals with intellectual disabilities.  More than 600 Special Olympics athletes in Mecklenburg County have benefitted from this partnership by receiving free physical exams during annual MedFests, without which many of these athletes would not have been able to participate in life-changing Special Olympics programming. 

Carolinas Rehabilitation is also training the next generation of inclusive healthcare providers. Their program trains residents to work with people with intellectual disabilities while also committing two or more residents to becoming a certified MedFest Clinical Director.  These new Clinical Directors oversee the annual Charlotte MedFest and train medical volunteers on how to best care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In addition to providing physical exams for athletes, Carolinas Rehabilitation has also provided follow-up cardiology care, started a partnership with Carolinas Medical Center’s Dental Clinic to provide dental screenings and identified new medical partners across the state to work with Special Olympics North Carolina.  

Jen Roberts, FUNfitness Clinical Director 

With her experience and dedication, Jen Roberts is proving to make a big impact in the lives of people with and without disabilities in North Carolina. After serving as a Special Olympics FUNfitness volunteer at multiple state-level Special Olympics events, she became a certified Clinical Director for FUNfitness in 2014, expanding the program significantly during the past four years. FUNfitness is a free, noninvasive health screening offered to Special Olympics athletes that provides free screenings and education on balance, flexibility and strength by physical therapists. Thanks to her leadership, more than 350 Special Olympics North Carolina athletes have been able to participate in free screenings and receive education on balance, flexibility and strength in the 2017-2018 program year, more than doubling the FUNfitness screening numbers from the previous year.

Due in large part to Roberts’s efforts, FUNfitness screenings are taking part in several communities across the state.  She helps recruit local Physical Therapists to provide screenings as well as follow up care for athletes in their local communities. She has assisted the Methodist University Physical Therapy program in Fayetteville with developing an annual curriculum specific to working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, culminating in a FUNfitness screening at the local Spring Games.

Roberts has become a powerful advocate for inclusive health in the healthcare community through her volunteer work as a FUNfitness Clinical Director: presenting on FUNfitness at an American Physical Therapy Association Conference, speaking about the impacts of FUNfitness on a state-wide Wellness Show and coordinating a FUNfitness Clinical Director to speak about the importance of their work at the NC Physical Therapy Association Student Conclave.   

Carolinas Rehabilitation and Roberts are two of the select few individuals or organizations from around the world that will receive the Golisano Health Leadership Award in 2018 from Special Olympics. Up to seven honorees will then be selected to receive the global award to be presented at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in March.   

Since 2012, philanthropist and Paychex Chairman Tom Golisano, and the Golisano Foundation, have committed $37 million to the Special Olympics health program to increase access to inclusive health, fitness and wellness programs for people with intellectual disabilities in the communities in which they live.

People with intellectual disabilities are part of one of the largest and most medically underserved disability groups in the world. Millions with intellectual disabilities lack access to quality health care and experience dramatically higher rates of preventable disease, chronic pain and suffering, and premature death in every country around the world.

Special Olympics’ vision of its health program, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, is to create a world where people with intellectual disabilities have the same opportunities and access to health care as people without intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics’ 19 years of experience identifying and addressing the unmet health needs of people with intellectual disabilities has revealed the myriad of complex barriers to health faced by this population. Barriers to this vision include lack of access to quality health care, education, and resources.

Through this multi-layered effort, Special Olympics is working to create a tipping point where health becomes inclusive for people with intellectual disabilities globally by changing curriculum, training health care professionals and policymakers, influencing policy, advocating for inclusive health programming, building partnerships for follow-up care and harnessing the power of the Special Olympics Movement to build awareness.

Over the next five years, SONC seeks to build better, healthier communities through a more holistic approach to health, fitness, nutrition and inclusion. As part of a new strategic plan, SONC will increase existing noninvasive health screenings and also offer programs that are more accessible locally with a focus on healthy lifestyles (including nutrition). Healthy Communities programming will also be incorporated into ongoing sports programs which have seen tremendous success throughout North Carolina by involving nearly 40,000 registered athletes.

To succeed in achieving this ambitious vision, Special Olympics North Carolina is assembling partners who also embrace it. If you are interested in joining our health movement, please contact Ellen Fahey, SONC Health Director, at

About Special Olympics North Carolina

Special Olympics North Carolina offers year-round sports training and competition for nearly 40,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. These athletes inspire greatness through their success and provide motivation to the thousands of coaches, sports officials, local program committee members and event organizers involved in Special Olympics statewide.  SONC offers Olympic-type competition in 19 sports on local and state levels as well as health and wellness initiatives to improve the health status and increase access to community health resources for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Youth become agents of change through Unified Champion Schools, an education and sports based program created by Special Olympics to build an inclusive environment among youth with and without intellectual disabilities as well as empower them to become youth leaders and create change in their community. Visit Special Olympics North Carolina at Engage with us on;, and

About Tom Golisano and the Golisano Foundation  

Tom Golisano — entrepreneur, philanthropist, and civic leader — is the founder and chairman of the board of Paychex, Inc., headquartered in Rochester. With more than 12,000 employees and 100 office locations nationwide, Paychex is a leading national provider of payroll, human resource, and benefit outsourcing solutions for more than a half-million small and medium-sized businesses. Tom’s vision, perseverance and action have left an indelible mark on a broad spectrum of issues that touch our lives – in business, healthcare, education, voter policies, politics, and tax reform. A fierce advocate for dignity and inclusion, Tom Golisano applied his pioneering spirit to establish the Golisano Foundation to help make the world a better place for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

In addition to Tom’s personal philanthropic contributions to hospitals, educational institutions and other organizations exceeding $300 million, the Golisano Foundation is now one of the largest private foundations in the United States devoted exclusively to supporting programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded in 1985, the Foundation is focused on “Imagining the Possibilities.” With $40 million in gross assets, it has awarded more than $24 million in grants, about $2 million annually, to non-profit organizations that serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. @GolisanoFdn

Comments are closed.