Volunteers make the games go 'round

2012-05-14T08:00:00Z 2012-05-15T16:31:27Z Volunteers make the games go 'roundBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Most fans at the Special Olympics Montana State Summer Games see just what you'd expect there: athletics, good competition and plenty of camaraderie and good attitudes.

But while the general public is putting the spotlight on the athletes, thousands of dedicated volunteers are working tirelessly behind the scenes to make the games run smoothly.

The 2012 games will be held in Billings on May 15-18 and every time an athlete is provided a lunch during competition, every time somebody breaks a new record, every boundary line drawn on a field and each time an athlete gets a ride to a venue, volunteers set it up.

"We cannot conduct the games without volunteer support," said Tammy Peterson, SOMT's vice president of field service. "We only have 15 staff people here, so everything is run by volunteers. Every face of this even that you can think of is run by volunteers."

There are 2,100 shifts to be filled throughout the games and one of the key organizers also happens to be a volunteer. Tracy Neary, St. Vincent Healthcare's director of mission outreach, is co-director of support services on the games' management team.

That means that Neary is one of the people organizing meals for the teams over the three days of competition, transportation during the games, first aid service and stations and family services.

"One of the lenses that you can look at it through is that it's about athletic competition, and it definitely is a big part of it," she said. "For me, I find tremendous value in the way that we, as a whole community, as Billings, respond. I think it opens up something in every one of us as volunteers, to go beyond ourselves."

One of her biggest duties is helping to coordinate the gathering and distribution of about 2,000 lunches each day. Through working with local businesses, they've able to get commitments to provide the food, as well as getting about 1,500 meals donated for team dinners around town.

Because she works at a hospital, the health aspect of the volunteer duties is also important to Neary.

"The wellness part is just really near and dear to me," she said. "It's of special concern for those who are most vulnerable. We know that athletes who have disabilities can be vulnerable."

While the games need about 2,000 volunteers, businesses and groups around town are also pitching in where they can. First Interstate Bank signed on as the premier sponsor and is providing, among other things, hundreds of volunteers.

"Truly, the community hosts the games," Peterson said. "It's not one sponsor or one organization or one group of volunteers. Unless the community's truly involved, there's no way we can do it."

She added that they'll take volunteers for the games as long as there's space available.

Games officials also feel that the volunteers get just as much out of the experience as the athletes.

"In four hours of volunteering they can know that they really did make a difference in someone's life in an immediate, important way," Peterson said. "They come away with a clearer understanding of the capacities of people."



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