As the global community navigates the current pandemic, the themes of service and inclusion have emerged as critical elements to an ever-changing society. The world has witnessed the traumatic effect that COVID has had on all neighborhoods, all communities and all nations. Perhaps more importantly still, the globe has continuously looked to a new cast of heroes, champions and teachers to underscore and reinforce the connectivity that keeps the world together.

It is this sense of connectivity- and solidarity- that created a remarkable virtual convening in December of 2022. Industry, academia, civil society and media have all seen the immediate need to transform the physical into the virtual, and replace in-person for what are now household names: Zoom, Teams, Webex. This migration to the virtual space has not stopped the tenacity with which the athletes of Special Olympics approach their zest for sport. It also has not stopped the serious and strong emphasis that Lions Clubs International leaders place on the need to reach out to all across the community and offer support and reinforce a much needed sense of togetherness.

“In these tough times, we need to look only to Special Olympics athletes. They will bring you back to your core.” These words marked some of the opening remarks offered by Lions Clubs International Director Ken Ibarra of the US State of California. “I remember very well the first Special Olympics event I ever attended- a local track and field meet. It changed my life and the life of my family. I cried happy years, and in those tears, I made a commitment to support this wonderful community.” Lions Clubs International Ken Ibarra and Lion Amy Fink- both of the Bay Area Special Olympics (BASO) Lions Club, joined over 10 Special Olympics Northern California athletes on a virtual call to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Special Olympics- Lions Clubs International Foundation “Mission: Inclusion” partnership, and to extend the deep gratitude of the global Special Olympics family to Lions Clubs and Leo volunteers around the world.

“More than any other group around the world, Lions Clubs International Foundation and the Lions Clubs around the world have answered the call to action from our athletes and their families,” said David Solo, Chief Executive Officer of Special Olympics Northern California. “We are incredibly grateful to Lions Clubs International Foundation and Lions Clubs International and moreover, we are eager and committed to do more to bring the themes of service and inclusion to the forefront of our community and our world.”
The athletes of Special Olympics Northern California took the opportunity to ask questions, share experiences, extend invitations and most of all, have fun. “I am a two-time gold medal holder in flag football, but what I really can’t wait to start is basketball!” said Jonathon, a Special Olympics Northern California athlete. Wyatt, a Special Olympics Northern California athlete, took the chance to share with International Director Ken and Lion Amy his gratitude for Lions support: “Thank you Lions Clubs for these great sports goggles I’m wearing. Through your support, I can see on and off the court!”

As the virtual convening concluded, an athlete asked International Director Ken: “How do you like working with the athletes of Special Olympics?”

“Better than working with anyone else!” said ID Ken- a most electric end to a call designed to appreciate, motivate and activate a renewed commitment into 2022 for the Special Olympics – Lions Clubs International Foundation “Mission: Inclusion” partnership.
Special Olympics Northern California and the BASO Club plan on teaming up in 2022 in creating increased service opportunities and the continued empowerment of athletes. Both organizations are determined, despite the challenges that the current pandemic has created, to bring the partnership to life.

“We are thrilled to be partners with Special Olympics”, said Lion Amy Fink of the BASO Lions Club. “Together we can do so much – so let’s get to it!”
Never better said for a partnership founded upon a vision of achieving inclusion through service- and with Lions Clubs and Leo volunteers fully engaged- through action.

Photo credit: Special Olympics