Special Olympics Florida hosted its first fundraiser in Flagler County on Nov. 24.
As a mother of a Special Olympics athlete, Denise Breneman found joy in watching her son Will grow into a 17-year-old swimmer, surfer, cyclist and basketball player.
“I saw him succeed, and he felt self-confident,” said Breneman, the director of Special Olympics Florida. “And so, for me, seeing that in him, I wanted to see that in other athletes and their families.”
Special Olympics Florida Area 5, which includes Volusia and Flagler counties, held its first fundraiser in Flagler County on Saturday, Nov. 24. The bingo tournament and fish fry was held at the Palm Coast Elks Lodge No. 2709.
Cindy Schild, a fundraiser volunteer, only moved to Palm Coast a few months ago, but has found her passion with Special Olympics. She now coaches swimming for the Flagler County athletes.
“I wanted to start getting involved locally. I used to swim, and I got involved with Special Olympics, and it’s just an amazing organization, and the athletes are really tremendous,” Schild said. “It just seemed like Flagler was a little short or shy on resources, comparatively, as a I started going around to some of the different competitions.”
Local residents were encouraged to bid on over 30 silent auction and bingo prizes, donated from Flagler County businesses. Breneman said the evening raised $2,228.
“With more resources, we could get more sports,” Schild said. “I really hope I can be a better advocate to get them better resources.”
There are 283 Special Olympics Flagler County athletes, ranging in age from 3 to 62, said Breneman. She is currently working with Superintendent James Tager to launch unified sports at Matanzas High School, Indian Trails Middle School and Belle Terre Elementary School, where Special Olympics athletes would be paired with students in different sports.
Breneman said those schools have committed to offer one unified sport in fall and one in spring/summer, which ends in May. There are also community sports available for athletes that either have aged out of school or don’t have unified sports offered at their school.
“Since taking over, I worked really hard to expand the sports,” Breneman said. “Now, in order to expand the sports, I have to find the sports that the athletes are interested in, secure the coaches that are going to be dedicated to help growing that and find the facilities.”
Special Olympics Flagler County is currently looking for coaches for track and field, soccer, tennis and cycling, she said.
“The more we can get our name out there and say, ‘Yes, we are here. Yes, we’re here for the community. We want you to be part of it,’” Breneman said.
Ultimately, the growth Breneman sees in the athletes motivates her to continue expanding.
“I can relate more to the families and help them understand their role as an advocate for their child or their grandchild and the importance of them being there as a coach, or a cheering team or even at an individual fundraiser,” she said.