November 18, 2020
| 3:00 p.m.

The annual “Global Day of Giving” is upon us this holiday season and what better way to give back to your community then joining in on #GivingTuesday by donating to the organizations that make Santa Barbara a place we are proud to call home. Noozhawk is teaming up with local nonprofits to encourage you to take part in the international day of giving on December 1st, 2020.

It is no secret that this year has been full of challenges. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic local nonprofits need your support now more than ever. Our Good for Santa Barbara Nonprofit Section provides all the resources you need to donate this holiday season.

In this interview, Noozhawk talked with Gina Carbajal, Development Director of Special Olympics Southern California – Santa Barbara, to learn more about how the nonprofit is dedicated to providing athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Special Olympics Southern California – Santa Barbara Region

Question: What is the name & mission of your nonprofit?

Answer: The mission of Special Olympics Southern California is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them 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. Our vision is to promote acceptance, inclusion, and well‐being for people with intellectual disabilities through sports.

Q: How long has your nonprofit been in service and whom was it started by?

A: U.S. Gold Decathlon winner Rafer Johnson started Special Olympics Southern California in 1969.  Rafer received a call from Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968 as an invitation to the first Special Olympics Games in Chicago. He said that the event was such a positive environment and he wanted to help the movement grow. Johnson knew more needed to be done for people with intellectual disabilities so in 1969, he helped form the Southern California chapter of Special Olympics. Today, Special Olympics provides year round sports training and competition throughout Southern California to over 38, 200 athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your non-profit?

A: Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed that if people with intellectual disabilities were given the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else, they could accomplish far more than anyone ever thought possible. She put that vision into action in 1962 by inviting young people with intellectual disabilities to a summer day camp she hosted in her backyard. She called it “Camp Shriver.” The goal was to explore the children’s skills in a variety of sports and physical activities. The idea behind that first Camp Shriver began to grow. In July 1968, the first International Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago, Illinois. 

In her remarks at the Opening Ceremony, she said the inaugural Chicago Special Olympics prove “a very fundamental fact” — that children with intellectual disabilities can be exceptional athletes and that “through sports they can realize their potential for growth.” She pledged that this new organization, Special Olympics, would offer people with intellectual disabilities everywhere “the chance to play, the chance to compete and the chance to grow.” 

Q: How has Covid-19 impacted your non-profit?

A: With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting everyday life, Special Olympics faces new challenges. As we adapt to these unprecedented circumstances, we continue to serve our athletes.  However, in order to ensure the safety of our athletes, staff, and community, we have made necessary modifications to our programming until we can come together again for in person sports training and competitions.

We have also been impacted like so many other non-profits and businesses financially, as we rely on fundraising events and grants to support the programs that we provide to our athletes.  We were only able to hold two virtual fundraising events this year and most foundation and grant sources have shifted their funding to Covid-19 services within the community.

Q: Describe the changes that have been made to staffing and internal operations due to Covid-19.  Are these changes expected to last beyond the short term?

A: We are following all State of California Covid-19 protocols to ensure that staff, volunteers and athletes are safe.  We have three staff that oversee the daily operations for Santa Barbara Region.  We are mainly working remotely from our homes, with occasional office days.  We plan on going back to normal operations, once we are all able to get back to normal activities.

In regards to programs, we have made important changes to our programs to keep our athletes engaged in physical activity, wellness and social engagement.  We have had to changes:

• Healthy Lifestyle Challenge – is a platform where SOSC athletes will work on their fitness, nutrition, and hydration while practices and events are cancelled. The goal of the Fitness Challenge is to encourage athletes to continue with their health journey.  Challenges are facilitated through recorded videos that are posted to YouTube & the HLC website. 

Challenge Category Descriptions:

• Fitness- Fitness challenges consist of work outs of all levels and styles. Fitness challenges range from 20-30 minutes. 

• Hydration & nutrition- Hydration & Nutrition challenges provide information to complete the goal. These goals are designed to help set healthy patterns in everyday life.

• Mindfulness- Mindfulness challenges focus on self-awareness and self-help. Mindfulness challenges provide information on how to practice these skills on your own every day. 

• Sport Specific- Sport Specific challenges consist of sport specific drills, exercises, and tips for every sport. These videos are specifically created by SOSC coaches. 

• Create your own- Create your own is a way to earn points by logging your own daily movements. Examples of create your own are attending an online yoga class, going for a walk, doing your own work out. Anything that gets you up and moving can earn you points in this category!

• Zoom Work Outs- Zoom work outs are live fitness challenges facilitated by SOSC staff. These work outs are two days per week and are open to anyone who wants to attend. Links to the workouts can be found at www.sosc.org/hlc on Tuesdays at 4:00pm.

Q: What types of fundraisers and or programs does your non-profit run?

A: Fundraisers that will be hosted next year, as we get back to normal are:

• Tip A Cop at local restaurants, Law Enforcement Torch Run, Fired Up for Special Olympics Dinner and Polar Plunge.

• Individual Donations: Make a gift of any amount to support an athlete.  

• Host a Mixer:  Host a mixer at your home or business and invite friends and colleagues to learn about Special Olympics.

Our athlete programs that we will be able to offer, once we are able to get back to normal programming are the following:

• Community Program – Year-round training and competitions in 13 sports for athletes ages 8 and up.

• Schools Programs – Encourages inclusion, participation, and leadership in students through training and competitions through local community schools.

• Healthy Athletes – Provides free health screenings in a fun, welcoming environment.

• Unified Sports – Promotes inclusion between individuals with & without intellectual disabilities.

Healthy Lifestyle Challenge – is a platform where SOSC athletes will work on their fitness, nutrition, and hydration while practices and events are cancelled. The goal of the Fitness Challenge is to encourage athletes to continue with their health journey.  Challenges are facilitated through recorded videos that are posted to YouTube & the HLC website. 

Q: How do people get involved/volunteer for your non-profit?  What protocols have been implemented for volunteers due to Covid-19?

A: During Covid-19, we have had to change how our volunteers work with staff and athletes.  We are providing all of our activities via virtual activities, with not in person events.

Our volunteers are currently assisting with the following:

Regular check-ins and engagement through phone calls to athletes

Hand written cards and notes

Zoom meetings every other week with our Sports Manager and Coaches

Zoom meetings every other week with or Development Manager and interns to participate in cooking activities, games, and other social activities to keep our athletes engaged.

When we get back to normal programing our volunteers, support every facet of our mission, ranging from, but not limited to hands on sports training as coaches, organization wide day to day operations, day of competitions and fundraising events. 

Competitions Hosted in Santa Barbara: 

Region Basketball Competition at UCSB – spring

Region Bocce Competition – spring

Region Soccer Competition – fall

School Games Track & Field Competition-spring

School Games Soccer Competition- fall 

Q: Can you share one or two stories of individuals whose lives have been changed because of your organization?

A: I want to introduce you to Jessica Simon; she has been involved with Special Olympics for approximately 35 years. She first started participating with Special Olympics through our school programs at the age of 5 years and transitioned into the traditional sports programs. Jessica has participated in 10 of the 13 sports that are offered by Special Olympics. Jessica says, “Her favorite sport if she had to pick one is swimming.”  

When asked how the current Covid-19 pandemic has impacted her life, Jessica said “I have been staying with my family a few days out of the week and a few days in my apartment, it has impacted my being independent.”  Jessica also stated, “I really miss not being able to get together with my friends at Special Olympics and not being able to interact in competitions.

In September, Jessica got engaged to her fiancé David Samson, whom is also a Special Olympics athlete, they are planning on getting married in 2024.  Both Jessica and Dave also participate in Alpha Resource Center programs.  What she misses most, is not being able to see David on a regular basis due to Covid.  

Jessica is keeping herself active, by swimming at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club on a weekly basis, her goal is to be picked for Special Olympics World Games in swimming.  Besides swimming, she is keeping connected with her fellow athletes through the weekly Zoom meetings and Zoom fun activities with her fellow Special Olympic Athletes and staff.  Some of the activities that they are participating in our trivia nights, bingo, scavenger hunts, baking activities, etc…, 

Jessica has been a really outgoing Special Olympic Athlete, she has been a Global Messenger for Special Olympics for the past five years, in which she has participated in various speaking engagements for Special Olympics and has done a fantastic job in opening many competitions by singing the National Anthem.  In 2016 Jessica was selected to be one of the representatives for Special Olympics Southern California to participate in a Special Olympics Play Unified sports events in Shanghai, China. When asked what she plans on doing when we can come back together, Jessica stated, “I am working on improving my swimming skills, so that I can be ready for World Games.  My goal is to be selected for Special Olympics World Games in 2022.”

Q: Why should donors trust your organization and what can your organization offer donors in exchange for a donation?

A: Our athletes always come first, they are our number one priority, and we follow our guiding principles, which are the following:

We believe that honesty, integrity, and mutual respect are the core principles of our organization, and we pledge to treat all athletes, coaches, volunteers, staff members, and donors according to these principles. 

We pledge that all decisions will be made in support of our mission and that all resources should be optimized for the direct benefit of our athletes.

We work hard to maximize your investment. For every $1 raised on behalf of our athletes, 84 cents goes directly to program costs. Programs are free to the athletes and their families, so donations are critical to our program.

We are proud that Special Olympics Southern California has sound fiscal management practices and our commitment to accountability and transparency have earned Special Olympics Southern California a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator.

Click here to support Special Olympics Southern California – Santa Barbara Region and its mission to provide year-round sports training for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and donate.