Not all that long ago there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sure, for decades Gwinnett County has had excellent services for children with special needs. People move here from all over the nation to avail themselves of our wonderful programs. But after graduation there is no county program to continue that good work.
But in June 2009, a group of concerned residents led by Jimmy Avant of Lilburn founded Gwinnett Masters Special Olympics. Parents, teachers, clergy, police officers and world-class musicians rallied together to provide activities for adults with special needs to help them turn a disability into a lifelong "this ability."
GMSO provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic type sports for adults with intellectual disabilities allowing them to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and friendship with their families, other GMSO athletes and the community.
Alpine skiing, basketball, bocce, bowling, floor hockey, gymnastics, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, volleyball, and walking are among the growing number of sports on their list.
It didn't take long for the Gwinnett community to step up to the plate to provide support for this all volunteer organization. St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Lawrenceville offered its gym for basketball, Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula volunteered its field for softball and Mountain Park Baptist welcomed GMSO to its gym for volleyball. The Church of Latter Day Saints in Lilburn offered time and space for both basketball and volleyball. Central Gwinnett High School, Rhodes Jordan Park and Bethesda Park also accommodated GMSO for several sports. Snellville AMF Bowling and Swim Atlanta also scheduled in special time for GMS and C.C. Sweet of Lawrenceville offered to coach bocce on his own private court.
These efforts are most appreciated by the participants. Not only for the 19 medals, including nine gold, that they won at the Special Olympics Indoor Winter Games last month, but also because of the spirit GMSO fosters.
"This has given me the chance to meet a lot of friends and play sports that I love," Brookwood graduate Courtney Rost said.
"This is about sports, but friends as well," North Gwinnett graduate Vasile Thompson said.
"It's a great community for the participants to be together and feel they are accepted. When we're there, everyone is equal," coordinator Michael O'Connell said.
GMSO is seeking new members to participate in their year-round sports training program. They will not only help you become more physically fit, but also a teammate and friend to other athletes.
To join as an athlete, coach or volunteer and be part of really something, please call 770-925-4288 or visit www.GMSOga.org.
Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.