“I have a way of talking them into just giving me a dollar,” joked Correctional Captain III Alena Carson of Marion Correctional Institution. “Just give me a dollar, that’s all I need you to do. I joke with them, ‘You just pay me to get out of your face, we make it fun.’”
When first asked by her supervisor to lead North Carolina Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics (NC LETR) efforts for their agency, she got to work, she got to talking.
Carson has been employed by the state of North Carolina for 27 years. Now serving with North Carolina Department of Public Safety’s Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, Carson has spent the past four years engaging fellow law enforcement officers in supporting Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) through the NC LETR.
“I said, ‘Yeah,’ because I have the gift of gab and I usually hustle people,” laughed Carson. “That’s what they tell me here anyway. I’m still hustling people here every day. We do several events and try and come up with things to raise money, we’ve been doing good so far.”
That first year, Marion Correctional Institution raised $6,000. As of August 2021, their agency ranks sixth in the top 10 fundraising departments for the 2021 Torch Run, sitting at $25,602 in funds raised. Carson has learned much in the years in between, about fundraising, about advocacy and about what is means to be part of Special Olympics. She attributes much of what she has learned to attending the annual NC Law Enforcement Torch Run Conference, which is held for law enforcement personnel to learn about the campaign for that designated year and provide ideas for conducting a successful Torch Run.
“I went to the [NC LETR] Conference and got to hang out with the athletes and everybody involved in the program,” said Carson. “It completely changed my mind about doing this just for the competition and trying to beat other institutions. I wanted to do it for the athletes, it was just precious.”
Contributing to that success, Carson’s fundraising efforts have led to the implementation of annual motorcycle and Jeep rides, raffles and a concert. For the past three consecutive years, Marion Correctional Institution has held a concert, hosted on the Carson family’s property, which includes a covered pavilion and a stage. Musicians from local bands to Grammy Award-winner Mike Farris have donated their talents in giving to SONC.
The selling of NC LETR’s annual T-shirts have become a community staple within Marion Correctional Institution and throughout McDowell County. Carson’s brother, a middle school principal, worked with the public school system to purchase T-shirts for their staff members, all pictured in a local newspaper, sporting their new NC LETR merchandise, on the day of their local Torch Run Relay.
“Just support,” started Carson. “Knowing that someone is there encouraging, that cares. In our Torch Run Relay, some of our local athletes came out. A lot of law enforcement officers went back to help these guys get across the finish line. That really boosted them, as far as showring them that someone is there to support them, has their back, congratulate them and make them feel normal. And, who’s to say that they aren’t normal?”
Marion Correctional Institution’s first year participating in the Torch Run Relay, Carson manifests that it will not be their last. Recruiting the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office, Marion Police Department and her own agency’s officers, Carson is well-equipped to do even more convincing to keep the funds coming in. Representing law enforcement in the community is not always an easy task. Regardless of the challenge, Carson always shows up to ask for more, to do more for Special Olympics athletes.
“As a prison, we are considered law enforcement,” explained Carson. “To show that law enforcement has a heart, we do our jobs, we love people, just like everyone else. It’s a lot of hard work and you have to get out there and talk, present what you’re doing very well, show them where the money is going to go. You just have to get out there and talk.”
Carson’s actions most certainly speak louder than her words. Raising over $25,000 this year already, as such a small community, is a feat in itself. Next year, Carson will be retiring, but not without a deep sense of pride in her accomplishments and a drive to continue working with Special Olympics.
“I look back on a lot of things that I took for granted as far as life and everything and how much these people enjoy life,” remarked Carson about SONC athletes. “The little things that we take for granted, it means the world to them.”