The 2023 Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Jake and Lauren Harkey of Watauga County. The couple was presented with the award at the 2023 SONC Leadership Summit, which joined Special Olympics leaders from across the state, hosted August 18-20 in Durham, North Carolina.
“Special Olympics provides new experiences, teaches social and life skills, and promotes a healthier lifestyle for individuals with intellectual disabilities,” said Jake Harkey. “By volunteering, you are helping to create opportunities for Special Olympics athletes to thrive and have a better quality of life. Not only will you benefit them by volunteering, you’ll get so much more out of it in return.”
The Harkeys were introduced to Special Olympics more than 15 years ago, first recruited as volunteers in Cabarrus County. In the years since, they have served as coaches and Unified partners, individuals without intellectual disabilities who play alongside Special Olympics athletes. As a detective with Boone Police Department, Jake has also represented the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics North Carolina.
Combined, they have coached Special Olympics athletes in five Special Olympics World Games and one Special Olympics USA Games. From cycling, to tennis, to volleyball, to Alpine skiing, they are well-versed in what it means to promote inclusivity through sport. Most recently, Jake represented Special Olympics USA as head cycling coach in the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023.
“Volunteering and coaching bring us so much joy and will forever be a part of our lives,” said Lauren Harkey. “Our athletes have become an extended part of our family. Supporting them on their journey through life and seeing them thrive is the ultimate reward.”
About Special Olympics North Carolina
Since 1968, the organization has used the transformative power of sports to improve the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Nearly 40,000 athletes in North Carolina inspire thousands of coaches, sports officials, local program committee members and event organizers involved in Special Olympics statewide. SONC offers year-round training and competition in 20 Olympic-type 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. Engage with us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.