The month of March is designated as “Women’s History Month,” honoring the significant contributions women have made to the United States and its notable causes. Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) joins in celebrating the contributions women have made to the Special Olympics movement, recognizing SONC Board Chair Chiquana Dancy.
Formerly employed as the senior director of sports and student programs for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA), Dancy’s involvement with Special Olympics began in 2012, playing an integral role in promoting Project UNIFY® in North Carolina high schools. Project UNIFY, now referred to as Unified Champion Schools®, brings youth with and without intellectual disabilities together through the implementation of inclusive sports, inclusive leadership opportunities and whole school engagement. Dancy introduced a statewide Student-Athlete Advisory Council comprised of youth leaders in 2010. After Project UNIFY was introduced in schools, it became an annual goal for the Council to amplify the impact of Special Olympics in schools.
As a sport director with NCHSAA, Dancy acknowledged the growing popularity of track and field programming in the schools. With that foundation laid, Dancy started the process of building a Unified track program and advocating for its inclusion in high schools across North Carolina.
“For me, it was heartwarming,” said Dancy. “It was the feeling you get when you succeed at something that you believe in, wholeheartedly. Not all the students or coaches understood it initially, but we started to see their transformation. Coaches would call the office and share stories about the impact the program had on their students and school environment. Just hearing the stories they told, hearing how their students bought into the concept of inclusion, for me, it felt like an achievement.”
In 2013, Dancy, along with SONC staff members, attended a Unified sports conference in Arizona, joining Unified advocates from across the country. On the flight home, she knew her life had changed for the better.
“I remember hearing all the stories of how people got involved with Special Olympics,” said Dancy. “Everyone said something to the effect of, ‘When you become a fan, you’re a fan for life.’ Sure enough, they were correct… I became a fan, I’m still a fan.”
Following her career with NCHSAA, Dancy founded C.M. Dancy Consulting, LLC. A management and administrative services consulting firm, she specializes in organizational, programmatic and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She advises through leadership training, workshops, equity audits, strategic planning and program management. Combining her expertise in nonprofit management and her belief in the Special Olympics mission, Dancy did not hesitate to accept a position on the SONC Board of Directors.
“I believe in the mission, first and foremost,” said Dancy. “It doesn’t hurt that I get to work alongside and have relationships with SONC staff. They genuinely believe in the mission and the work that they do, which makes me even more attracted to the organization… I’ve always been impressed with the staff, and the athletes. I’m just amazed. It doesn’t matter your intellectual ability, if you can compete, if you have the fortitude to compete, you get out there and do that.”
Dancy was elected to serve her first term on the SONC Board of Directors in January of 2018. She was re-elected for a second term beginning in January of 2021. In 2022, Dancy was elected to serve as SONC board chair, a position she has leveraged to meet Special Olympics athletes and advocate on their behalf.
Dancy, with the fortitude to lead and to make a difference in the lives of others, goes out there and does just that.
Meet a few more women in the Special Olympics movement who are making inclusion a reality in North Carolina:
For Special Olympics Buncombe County athlete Paige Soderman, her lifelong dream is to “play soccer with Alex Morgan.” At the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida, hosted June 5-12, she got one step closer to scoring that dream. Much like Morgan, Soderman serves as a leader, a source of inspiration, for others. As a Global Messenger, Soderman is a trained spokesperson for Special Olympics, helping to recruit potential athletes, volunteers and sponsors through public presentations. Also trained as a Health Messenger, she serves as a health and wellness leader, educator, advocate and role model within her Special Olympics community. Meet Paige.
As Special Olympics North Carolina’s first-ever Director of Inclusive Schools, Lilly is bringing Unified Champion Schools to targeted underserved communities through the Unified Champion City Schools® (UCCS) initiative. Last summer, she led a delegation of seven educators and youth leaders as they represented Special Olympics NC at the first-ever UCCS Summit in Detroit, Michigan. But her leadership doesn’t stop there. From mentoring Special Olympics U.S. Youth Ambassadors to planning a UCCS conference for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Lilly has made inclusion a part of her personal mission. Read more about the Summit.
There is no question that Pam Richards embodied what it meant to be a leader in the Special Olympics movement. Her involvement with SONC began in 2007 competing in several sports. As an athlete leader, Richards served on the SONC Athlete Council and as a Global Messenger, advocating for inclusion as a trained spokesperson for Special Olympics. She was also a member of the Self-Advocates of Mecklenburg County, a group that advocates for rights of those with intellectual disabilities at the city, county and state levels. Richards passed away on Oct. 11, 2022, but her legacy lives on through the athlete leaders who were inspired by her commitment to inclusion. The 2022 Billy Quick Leadership Award was presented posthumously to Richards for her unending leadership and dedication.