Each spring, law enforcement officers from across North Carolina host a Torch Run Relay for Special Olympics in their respective communities. As Guardians of the Flame, officers carry the torch in relays spanning over 2,000 miles, passing the Flame of Hope throughout the state. All of the torches converge in Raleigh, where officers and athletes carry the Flame of Hope to the Special Olympics North Carolina Summer Games Opening Ceremony.
With the cancellation of the 2020 SONC Summer Games due to the coronavirus pandemic, SONC, along with the support of hundreds of local law enforcement volunteers, hosted this year’s Torch Run Relay campaign virtually. During the months of May and June, participants in the Keep the Hope Virtual Torch Run were asked to track their miles by walking, running, biking or training on stationary home fitness equipment and then donate .25 cents per mile.
True to its name, The Hope Center of Hendersonville kept the Flame of Hope lit brightly in their community. A nonprofit that provides a year-round day program for adults with intellectual disabilities, The Hope Center promoted the mission of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics among its members through their participation in the Keep the Hope Virtual Torch Run.
The Hope Center’s partnership with Special Olympics Henderson County has fostered the growth of a cheerleading program, supported by Paige Hannah, assistant director for The Hope Center and Special Olympics cheerleading coach. With the center’s activities paused until mid-May, the center strived to achieve a new normal.
“When we opened back up, we had to look at what we could do that was safe,” said Hannah. “The members voted that the Keep the Hope Virtual Torch Run was something that they would like to do. We were able to find a video on YouTube of a mile-long walk and, even when it rained, they were still able to track their miles.”
Among the nearly 30 members in the day program, the majority are registered as Special Olympics Henderson County athletes. Each spring, The Hope Center hosts their own version of Summer Games, with competitions in softball, various races, slalom-style events and a dance party. For Hannah, her hope is in continuing to include members in Special Olympics programming, becoming an advocate for inclusion in her own way.
“I initially got involved in Special Olympics because my older sister had intellectual disabilities,” said Hannah. “From a young age, I was at our local Spring Games and I started coaching cheerleading ten years ago.”
Years later, Hannah’s mother was inspired by her daughter’s journey and became a founding member of The Hope Center.
“My sister and I would always talk about going to college and one day she asked, ‘What am I going to do when I get out of school?’” said Hannah. “That conversation prompted my mother to begin the foundational work for The Hope Center.”
Today, Hannah is ensuring that The Hope Center’s members are leading lives in which they feel included. An icon of hope in itself, the center continued to include its members in times of unprecedented isolation through the Keep the Hope Virtual Torch Run.
Their goal for the month of June was a total of 250 miles, a feasible goal with the backbone of hopefulness on their side.