Special Olympics fundraiser a success

SUWANEE - Organizers of the first large fundraiser in years designed to benefit the Gwinnett County Special Olympics said the event was a success, despite a rainstorm that caused some activities to be postponed or canceled.

A couple hundred people were at Suwanee Town Center Park about 1 p.m. Saturday, where "A Special Day in Gwinnett" was taking place. When it started raining, vendors packed up and people scattered for shelter.

A few people stayed to watch the pet parade, which took place on the park's covered stage.

Karen O'Connor, the fundraising chairwoman for Gwinnett County Special Olympics, said the community's support for the event was "tremendous."

"They really opened their hearts," she said.

The truck pull - which may have been the first in the county - was a successful event, O'Connor said. The Mill Creek High School football team came in first place, and the Special Olympics team placed second after participating in a tie-breaker.

Lilburn resident Jeff Jansma, a Special Olympics softball coach whose son has special needs, said he thinks the event helped the community see what Special Olympics is about.

"This is a great opportunity for the community to see the athletes and get a better understanding of the capabilities of adults with intellectual disabilities," Jansma said.

Jansma said his son, Josh, says that Special Olympics "allows him to be involved with his friends and to have a more fun-filled life." Josh has participated in several Special Olympics events, such as track and field, softball, volleyball, golf and bowling.

Josh graduated in 2003 from Shiloh High and participated in the STRIVE program, Jansma said, adding that his son now works for Loganville Christian Academy.

"A Special Day in Gwinnett" was created after Christina Carlyle, the marketing manager for Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries, approached O'Connor to develop an event. Carlyle said she wanted to get her company involved in a great cause.

The goal for the day was to raise $25,000, Carlyle said.

"Unfortunately, the weather really did have an impact," she said.

Carlyle said another "Special Day" has been planned for next year.

In the meantime, O'Connor said, the classic car show has been rescheduled for Saturday at the First Baptist Church in Sugar Hill, also known as The Family Church.