What do three different North Carolina counties, 12 years of Special Olympics experience and coaching all have in common? A guess for Ashley Anderson, local program coordinator of Special Olympics Gaston County, would be correct!
Since she was 16 years old, Anderson’s various roles throughout Special Olympics North Carolina have included that of intern, volleyball and soccer coach, volunteer and local program coordinator.
As a local program coordinator, Anderson understands the value of a strong program foundation. That foundation relies heavily on the support given from local committee members. An integral component of this committee’s mission is a strong relationship with the school system in Gaston County.
“We have worked with our school system to build our local games program and our Unified Champion Schools program. We have added several elementary UCS programs and a college-level program in our county,” said Anderson.
These efforts have resulted in an increase in the number of athletes the committee is able to recruit to participate in Special Olympics North Carolina programs. This year, that number increased to 360 athletes participating in Gaston County’s Spring Games.
Special Olympics Gaston County athletes are active in social events and leadership opportunities, including volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in Charlotte, the annual Halloween party and holiday socials.
“As a committee, we hope to continue to build these social opportunities and reach all of our athletes through these recreational opportunities and sports,” said Anderson. “We hope to continue to build a year-round climate for Special Olympics for all of our athletes.”
The Special Olympics community in Gaston County is committed to the continuous enhancement of sports programming, athlete involvement, school partnerships and fundraising efforts.
“My largest success thus far as a coordinator, financially, has been when we were able to raise nearly $10,000 for our annual Polar Plunge in February 2019, compared to only $4,000 in years past,” said Anderson. “This is due to the amazing participation and work in our community that our committee does and the support that we receive from our Unified Champion Schools. Without this support we would not have such successful fundraisers.”
Recently, Anderson’s successful leadership earned her an invitation to offer advice and guidance to another state’s Special Olympics program.
This year, Anderson was given the opportunity to participate in the Special Olympics Advance process in Tennessee, an 18-month program designed to cultivate conversations surrounding the enrichment of Special Olympics programming in Tennessee.
“This was an amazing opportunity as I not only shared about what I am able to do in Gaston County, but I was able to learn a lot from others participating in the SOTN Advance as well,” said Anderson. “I shared about our communication in the community, how we recruit athletes, the importance of building a foundation with a committee by delegating roles to committee members, and shared examples of documents that may be helpful to local programs in relation to everything from finance to sports calendars and much more.”
The discussions were centered around the structure of local program scrimmages versus state competition events as well as the importance of communication between state headquarters and local programs.
Attendees discussed similarities and difference among programs and shared suggestions on a variety of topics, such as sports and finances. Upon the conclusion of the weekend, Anderson was inspired by many of the ideas brought to the table.
“It was very insightful to peek inside the structure of Special Olympics and see what all is offered at each level, hear about the responsibilities of staff at the state level with SOTN and help staff build out a plan with goals to better prepare their local programs for leadership in the future, as I feel SONC has done with its local coordinators,” said Anderson.
Moving forward, Anderson anticipates leveraging this experience in advancing, enhancing and refining the direction of Special Olympics in Gaston County.