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Special Olympics legacy fund to help disabled Calgarians integrate with workforce

Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Calgary 2024 announced the launch of the Games Legacy program on Oct. 30, promising future financial support through Goodwill Industries to help disabled Calgarians find paid employment.

Cheryl Bernard, CEO of Canada’s Sport Hall of Fame and Co-Chair for the 2024 games, said that 100 per cent of the legacy funding would be re-invested into local communities, with 70 per cent remaining in Alberta, and 30 per cent being used to support Special Olympics Canada national programs.

Part of the funding, she said, would be used towards Goodwill’s Employer Inclusion Accelerator (EIA) program, which aims to provide companies and organizations tools, coaching, connection to resources, and support to engage in inclusive hiring practices.

“This commitment to accessibility sends a resounding message of inclusion,” said Bernard.

“The Special Olympics Canada Winter Games have already benefited our community and probably the most profound of them of these benefits has been the chance to kindle a culture of inclusivity through meaningful employment.”

Games partners TC Energy, whose CEO François Poirier is also a co-chair with Bernard, along with Tourism Calgary have already begun to work with Goodwill through the EIA program to further inclusive employment.

“Through this program, we’ll focus on disability education and awareness for our entire workplace. And this is what I’m very, very proud of and very excited about. We are going to be creating meaningful employment for individuals with intellectual disabilities in our Calgary office,” said Poirier.

Darby Taylor, a Special Olympics athlete who has participated in the games for 17 years, said that in his personal journey it took over seven years to gain his first paid job.

“I have learned many skills from training with Special Olympics including how important it is to follow instructions and to support my team. I’d also developed skills by volunteering at several places for many years, but it wasn’t the same as being paid for my work,” he said.

“Having paid employment makes me feel happy, valued and included. I also love getting the money. Everyone deserves that chance.”

Special Olympian Darby Taylor holds up a photo and frame that has hung in his home that says “we can expect nothing more than what we believe possible,” during an announcement of the Special Olympics Winter Games Calgary 2024 legacy fund is announced at the Ampersand in Calgary on Monday, October 30, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Call to make February games the best ever for athletes, families, and participants

The Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Calgary is being held from Feb. 27, 2024 to March 2, 2024 at venues across Calgary and the Tsuut’ina Nation, and are expected to draw in more than 4,000 visitors to Calgary.

Competition will happen in five-pin bowling, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, curling, floor hockey, figure skating, snowshoeing, and speed skating.

“I can say that Calgary is very much looking forward to welcoming all Special Olympics athletes, their families and their supporters in February. The spirit of inclusion is exactly what Special Olympics is all about,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

“As the welcoming and diverse city that we are and city that loves its winter sports, we recognize the value of hosting the Games to bring people together and showcase athletes of all abilities. It is in that spirit that Calgarians, businesses and service organizations are showing up for this event as volunteers as sponsors and as partners.”

She said that just over half of the volunteers who have signed up for the games have completed disability inclusivity training from Special Olympics Canada, and safe sport coaching training from the Coaching Association of Canada.

Still, said Mayor Gondek, the games were looking for more volunteers in some key areas including medical support from people with experience in nursing, athletics programs and physiotherapists, media support from photographers and graphic designers, and drivers to help shuttle athletes and coaches to and from venues.

“We want them to have an absolutely unforgettable experience. So if you think you’d be a great ambassador, please sign up. We’d love to have you be part of the team,” the mayor said.

For more information on Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Calgary 2024, see their website at calgary2024.specialolympics.ca.