Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett named PGA Tour Champions Charity of the Year

The Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett was named PGA Tour Championship Charity of the Year of Wednesday. Pictured at the check presentation are, left to right, executive director of the Mitsubishi Electric Classic and Gwinnett Sports Commission Stan Hall, chairman of Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett Susie Collat and Monte Ortel, tournament director of the Mitsubishi Electric Classic. (Special photo)

Stan Hall, the executive director of the Gwinnett Sports Commission, worked 27 years in a former career to prosecute bad guys and put them in jail. He’s seen it all and heard it all. It takes something special to get to him. The Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett did the trick.

“When I visited the Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett, I was crying like a baby,” Hall said. “The work those people do and the emotion that’s felt … it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

That’s why Hall and the team from the Mitsubishi Electric Classic, the annual golf tournament hosted at TPC Sugarloaf, pushed the school’s nomination for the PGA Tour Champions Charity of the Year.

On Wednesday, it became official. The Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett was named Charity of the Year and received a check for $30,000.

The Lawrenceville school provides educational and therapeutic programs for special needs students from ages 2 through adult. The charity, a beneficiary of the annual Mitsubishi Electric Classic, plans to use the funds to help fund the next phase of its construction plan.

“To our school, $30,000 is huge. That’s a lot of money,” said Susie Collat, vice-chair of the Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett. “Our base is very challenged, so $30,000 goes a long way and it will go a long way toward our capital campaign.”

The school currently serves 52 students, with 40 on the waiting list. The new building planned in the next phase of construction will cost between $1.5-2.4 million and will house 70 students. Further plans call for an expansion to a 200-student facility and for a recreation area.

“We have an annual Christmas program and we give awards,” Collat said. “When the young man who won the award’s name was called, you would have thought he had won an Academy Award. That’s what our school is all about.”

The Special Needs Schools organization is one of several recipients of money raised by the Mitsubishi Electric Classic. The annual tournament, conducted at TPC Sugarloaf the week after the Masters, has raised more than $2 million for charity in its first five years.

Mitsubishi tournament director Monte Ortel said, “To be recognized as Charity of the Year is a great honor for our tournament, but more important is the positive impact the Tour’s $30,000 donation will have on the Special Needs Schools and the marvelous work they are doing in the community.”

PGA Tour Champions president Greg McLaughlin personally flew in to make the presentation. He recognized the unique nature of the school and why it was selected.

“What was appealing was the work they were doing,” McLaughlin said. “There are a lot of good programs and they made a compelling argument. They’re very unique in the work they’re doing.”

The PGA Tour has always taken great pride in the amount of money it gives to charity, reported to be in excess of $5 billion since 1968. The three branches of the PGA Tour combined to give $160 million to charity from its 125 sponsored events.

“There are 27 events on (the Champions) Tour and there are hundreds of charities they give money to,” McLaughlin said. “To be recognized as one is special for them. It’s challenging to raise funds in any environment. Hopefully it helps them.”

Collat said, “Recognition is so important. One of the things we have an issue with is getting our name out there and making sure people know who we are. We’re kind of a hidden jewel in Gwinnett County and surrounding counties. We’re a small school, but extremely necessary to the kids who go to school there.”

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