Disability Employment Awareness Month
David E. Funkhouser
I recently had the honor of being appointed as Chair of the Grants, Corporate Sponsorships and In-Kind Donations Committee for Special Olympics Arizona (or, "SOAZ" for short). In that role, I will focus on cultivating current relationships, as well as developing new partnerships between the business community in Arizona and SOAZ. The objective of the Committee is to enhance SOAZ's ability to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for all children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
For those that may not know, Special Olympics all began in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw how unjustly and unfairly people with intellectual disabilities were being treated. She also saw that many children with intellectual disabilities didn’t even have a place to play. She decided to take action. Soon, her vision began to take shape, as she held a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. The goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and other activities – and not dwell on what they could not do. Fast forward to today, when Special Olympics has supported more than 4.5 million Special Olympic athletes - ages 8 years old and up - from more than 170 countries worldwide. The most recent victory lap for Special Olympics occurred this past Summer, between July 25 through August 2, when more than 6,000 athletes from 160 countries took center stage in the 2015 World Summer Games in Los Angeles, CA. The Games brought unprecedented attention to the achievements of people with intellectual disabilities - including more than 20 billion media and social media impressions all around the world.
My first involvement with SOAZ came over five years ago when I was asked to help launch, basically, a volunteer lawyers program for Special Olympic athletes and their families in Arizona. We eventually formed the Special Olympics Advocacy Resource program (or, "SOAR" for short), and I was a member of its Leadership Council. Through the hard work of Todd Jones, Vice President, Associate General Counsel and Assistant Secretary for GE Capital Solutions (which, I should note, is a long-standing Firm client), and others, we launched an idea into a network of attorneys statewide that quickly answer the call from SOAZ athletes or their families having trouble navigating some part of the law. We eventually asked the Volunteer Lawyers Program (a division of Community Legal Services) to take over SOAR, and they continue to help SOAZ athletes and their families as needs arise.
My wife, Alicia, and I have been blessed with three healthy and happy children: Davey (8), Jackson (6) and Cayla (3). However, my oldest sister, Stacy, nearly passed away when I was just ten years old from a brain aneurysm. Luckily, she survived, but had resulting physical impairments that remain with her today. Growing up, I saw that people often treated her differently and she was limited in what she could do in terms of sports and other high school events. I didn't think that was fair, and unfortunately the Special Olympics programs in Iowa in the early 1990s were not nearly as developed as they are in Arizona today.
With respect to SOAZ, I am proud to say that we are currently supporting over 18,000 athletes in Arizona, and supported tens of thousands of athletes before them. Most recently, during May 7-9 of this past year, SOAZ held its Summer Games, one of our major State competitions. At this year’s games, we had over 1,300 athletes take part in events ranging from track and field to volleyball and power lifting, and over 1150 volunteers came to help with competition, events, the Healthy Athletes program, and Olympic Village. Seeing the athletes get their medals is truly a rewarding experience, and if you haven't shared in that experience, I would encourage you to come out to our next event here in Arizona, or get involved in your own state!