On your mark, get set, give back!
It was in that spirit that three-dozen Santander Consumer USA (SC) associates volunteered recently at the Special Olympics Texas (SOTX) Area 11 Spring Games in Arlington, Texas.
“It was an emotional but rewarding experience for me, simply amazing!” said one SC associate who was assigned to the important job of cheering for the athletes as they arrived at the finish line for one of the events.
SC volunteers were from the Enterprise Fraud Management and Dealer Services team.
The SOTX organization was happy for the help, with 1,500 athletes competing in field and track events, this is SOTX Area 11’s largest competition of the year. For eight weeks or more, athletes have trained in preparation for this grand event.
“The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities,” said Krista Dunham, SOTX program director.
The games give athletes “continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”
All volunteers arrived early in the morning to set up the events and rest areas for the athletes and their families. Afterward, the SC associates were divided into groups to assist with multiple events, which started at noon.
The impact on the volunteers was described by one of the cheering SC associates.
“I cannot get little Jaydan out on my mind,” she said. “Just to see the joy on her face as I cheered her across the finish line brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.”
It seems like a small task, to cheer, but to all the athletes it’s the difference between finishing an event or even mustering up the courage to try.
One of Dunham’s favorite stories is about an athlete competing in the tennis ball throw:
“This young lady stood at the line with her hand in the air and the ball all ready to throw. She stood there. People start cheering for her. She stood there. Volunteers remind her what she is supposed to do. She stands there …,” according to Dunham.
“Finally, the volunteers decided that she wasn’t going to throw the ball and helped her to her seat … No, she never threw the ball. But she had never stood for so long either.”
While a majority of the SC volunteers were cheering, others were assisting the athletes on and off the track. Some were supplying water and guiding the athletes to the medal podium. Others kept time, organized the athletes at the event, or kept score.
Another SC associate expressed her gratitude for being given the opportunity to volunteer thanks to the SC volunteer-paid time off (VPTO) program.
“After my experience, I felt very blessed to be able to participate by volunteering at such an awesome event. I feel that SC’s VPTO is a beautiful thing, and it shows the community that as an organization we care by giving back. Thank You Santander.”