WINSTON — A day-long event in Winston Thursday celebrated the achievements of Special Olympic Athletes statewide.
The Special Talent Enrichment Program partnered with the city of Winston to honor Special Olympic athletes around Oregon in the first-ever Festival of Achievement.
Kelly Bingham, a Special Olympics softball coach for 15 years, and founder of STEP, said after she found out after the regional games in Medford last month that the Oregon State Games would not be held because of lack of funding, she wanted to do something for the athletes.
“We were qualified to go to the state games and were told later on the website there were no funds for us to go,” she said. “They look forward to going every year and they raised $48,000 in a walk-a-thon in this county and then they’re told there’s no money.”
So Bingham went to work on the Festival of Achievement to celebrate the Special Olympians.
She went to the Winston City Council to seek the city’s support and was able to secure Riverbend Park for the event.
In less than two weeks, the organizers were able to lock down live music, vendors, an animal show provided by Wildlife Safari with their cheetah ambassador, interactive activities and several food booths. The athletes were given full access to all the activities and a meal for no charge.
Bingham said she wanted to give the athletes a good experience to try to make up for not getting the opportunity to compete in the state games. The whole community was invited to the event to honor and support the athletes.
“I’m not trying to make money off of this and when this was brought to me, I felt like I could actually make a difference and actually do what my mission statement says,” Bingham said.
That statement, which was created along with the organization in 2013, was to change the world one “STEP” at a time by utilizing the special talents of persons with disabilities and to further enrich their lives through meaningful community involvement and working towards employment.
Brandon Hicks put together several bands to play during the event and he was happy to give the athletes a special day. He said it wasn’t hard to get the bands to come out.
“A lot of people have huge hearts, it’s been amazing,” he said. “Basically anyone we’ve told about the event were like, ‘What can I do to help,’ so we’ve had a huge outpouring.”
Cherie Reber has been in Special Olympics for 40 years and she would have rather gone to the state games, but she was having a good time.
“This is fun, I like it, and the food is good,” Reber said.
“The event is fun, I’m happy and there are a lot of activities and the games are fun,” said Amy Ferguson, a 30-year veteran of the Douglas County Special Olympics program. “I am very happy that the STEP group put it on and the athletes are happy about it.”
Sandy Lipphardt, a volunteer for Special Olympics, thought it was appropriate to give the Special Olympic athletes an event like the Festival of Achievement after the state games were canceled.
“These people are special in many ways, and they have earned over the last year, kudos and congratulations, so that’s what this is for,” Lipphardt said. “They are wonderful people and they deserve a celebration.”
The event went until 9 p.m. Thursday night. The hot weather may have kept attendance down a little, but Bingham said the dunk tank was really popular in the heat. She said they still had between 150 and 200 people show up from around Douglas County.