For some of our colleagues, the commitment to Special Olympics starts at home. While their title at work might say Marketing Researcher, Design Consultant or Executive Assistant, they truly shine in a much greater role as the parents and family members of Special Olympics athletes. Hear their inspiring stories below.
Jump to a spotlight story:
- April Halloran, employee and Special Olympics mom
- Christine Reeves, Bank of America employee and Special Olympics mom
- Heather Cota, proud mother of a Special Olympics athlete
- Nancy Zapata-Goetz, employee and Special Olympics mother
- Nathan Buechlein, a Special Olympics dad
“If you want to do something, if you want to effect change, then be a part of it. Make the change,” says Bank of America employee and future Special Olympics mom April Halloran.
For April’s family, including her husband Keith, also a Bank of America employee with U.S. Trust, inclusion isn’t just an abstract idea, it’s something that they live every day. April’s three-year-old daughter, Sarah Madeline, a future Special Olympics athlete and aspiring soccer player and swimmer, has Down syndrome. Sarah has two “typical” sisters, including her fraternal twin, Ella. As April describes it, growing up with sisters who do not have Down syndrome challenges Sarah Madeline, encouraging her to “learn and to be very articulate with her needs. Her sisters give her such incredible energy and drive her to just be one-of-the-girls.” Special Olympics will also give her a platform to develop her own unique talents.
When the Unified Relay ran near her hometown in Pennsylvania, just outside of Trenton, N.J., April and Keith were able to participate with Sarah Madeline and their other daughters. “As a family, we’re really passionate about the movement for inclusion. When you have a child with special needs, your whole perspective on life changes,” she says. “For me, it’s about focusing my energy on acknowledging and being proud of our differences, driving that pride with my children and engaging others in finding the beauty in those differences.”
As a Communication Consultant for the Merrill Lynch Retirement Group who has spent more than twenty years in the financial services industry, April has made a career of helping others to understand the value of what they have. Her participation in Special Olympics is just another way to engage others in appreciating and valuing “what they have.”
April notes that team members aren’t just supported in opportunities to join the movement for inclusion, they are also connected to community resources and given the time to participate. Says April, “More alike than different…it’s a powerful message and it takes more than one person or one family to truly effect that change.”
To hear Christine Reeves tell it, she’ll never forget the look on her son’s face when his little sister won her first Special Olympics swim meet.
Christine’s daughter Megan has autism and can sometimes be fearful of loud noises. “When it was time for Megan to race, I remember my son looking at me in a panic, saying, “She can’t do this, she’s going to be too scared.” When the buzzer went off however, Megan swam so fast that she took a gold medal.
Christine remembers how her son’s initial trepidation immediately turned to pride. “He exclaimed, ‘She did it!’ I think that is what Special Olympics does—it helps people see those with disabilities as individuals who have strengths, talents and capabilities.”
Since then, Megan has participated in many events, including soccer and bowling, but swimming remains her favorite. For Christine, who is a Corporate Communications manager in Bank of America’s Global Marketing & Corporate Affairs group and whose husband also works at the company, supporting Special Olympics is a family and community affair.
“Through our involvement with Special Olympics, we’ve met so many parents whose stories, tips and advice have been incredibly helpful. Having a special needs child does not come with a handbook—you have no idea what to do and it can be very isolating. Getting involved in Special Olympics helped us realize we are not alone.”
Christine is thankful that her involvement with Special Olympics extends to her professional life. “I’ve always been proud of our company’s involvement with the special needs community. Being based in Delaware, we’ve always been particularly proud that we employ people with disabilities.” Christine’s sister-in-law, also a Bank of America employee, leads a team of Bank of America volunteers during every Special Olympics Delaware Summer Games. “We’ve felt a tremendous amount of support from the company,” says Christine, who is sure to have inspired more of her friends and coworkers through her own experience of Special Olympics, including when she helped carry the torch in Delaware for the Unified Relay Across America leading up to the World Games.
As a mother to Special Olympics athlete Lily Cota, Heather Cota has experienced firsthand the talent and determination required to make it to the World Games. “My Daughter Lily was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months, and our experience with her has opened doors to a whole new world of awareness about what people with special needs go through on a daily basis,” she explains.
Now nine years old, Lily discovered her talent for softball after seeing her older sister’s involvement in school athletics. “Lily is just as eager to get involved. She fully believes that she is just like her sister—with different abilities and talents, but not ‘disabled’,” says Heather.
As an Executive Assistant in Default Servicing Claims within Global Technology & Operations, Heather has organizational and project management skills that she shared with Special Olympics, serving as a team leader for the Fans in the Stands program and creating Ability Awareness Week at her daughter’s school.
“I have become very passionate about building an environment of acceptance and inclusion,” says Heather. “And it’s helped me become more compassionate in my own heart about embracing all of our differences.”
Her experience with Special Olympics has inspired Heather to create opportunities for her fellow employees to support people with intellectual and physical disabilities. As associate engagement chair of the Southern California Disability Advocacy Network (DAN) affinity group, Heather has helped educate her fellow colleagues about Special Olympics from both a global and local perspective.
When the World Games commenced in Los Angeles, Heather was in the stands as a volunteer and a fan, but most importantly as a mom. “As [Lily’s] parent, I am driven to help her find a path in life where she can get involved and explore her abilities and her talents just like any kid,” says Heather. “I’ve become a champion not only for Lily, but for raising awareness around our community and promote the message that we are all different in some ways, but we all have the same needs for respect, acceptance, inclusion and friendship.”
When Nancy Zapata-Goetz and her husband learned that their son Donovan had Down syndrome, they initially worried that he “would forever struggle in a noninclusive environment.” Today, however, Donovan is an active 9-year-old boy who demonstrates to Nancy and her entire family that “he is differently abled. He is NOT special needs.”
“Special Olympics has been integral to showing my son his abilities,” says Nancy, whose son participates in swimming through their local Special Olympics chapter. “He is developing tons of strength and he is very proud of what he can do. That makes us feel good.”
A Bank of America employee for 27 years, Nancy works in the Global Financial Crimes Department of the Global Risk Management line of business. “Seeing how great my son is doing with Special Olympics is reflected in my everyday experiences at work and the happiness I feel when sharing the successes of my son with coworkers,” she says. Nancy credits her supportive environment at Bank of America with helping her donate time to the causes she cares about, including volunteering at her son’s school and serving as a board overseer for the Redwood Rehabilitation School, educating children and adults with special needs.
Donovan also has four very special fans — his grandparents — two of whom are Nancy’s parents and have been motivated by their personal experience to fundraise on behalf of other children with intellectual disabilities in Nancy’s hometown of Merida Yucatan, Mexico. “My parents are an incredible inspiration to me and my in-laws are front and center, cheering on their grandson and celebrating his milestones with pride,” says Nancy.
Though his colleagues in the Global Marketing & Corporate Affairs team at Bank of America may know Nathan Buechlein as the marketing researcher who provides insights toward improving the customer experience, at home he has another important role — as number-one fan to his daughter, a Special Olympics athlete.
In the four years that Nathan’s eight-year-old daughter Morgan has participated in Special Olympics, she has taken on an impressive range of events, including bowling and Field Day activities. Today, she is training for the 2015 North Carolina State Equestrian competition in October.
“Special Olympics has given my daughter the ability to compete and participate in activities that normally she would not be able to do with her typical peers,” says Nathan. He explains that his daughter has a neurological speech disorder called Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), which affects her ability to communicate. Morgan was also born with a small cerebellum, which affects her fine and gross motor skills along with her ability to run and maintain her balance. However, her equestrian training has helped her improve her core strength and confidence.
Having seen the benefits of Special Olympics firsthand, Nathan is a fan for life. “The joy and excitement Special Olympics brings to these children brightens the world. We are truly blessed our daughter has the opportunity and desire to participate in these events.”
“Special Olympics gives you a perspective on life that you can’t get anywhere else,” he adds. “These athletes show so much determination that it gives you the mentality that anything is possible and nothing should be taken for granted. The smile on the athletes’ faces when they complete their event is something that everybody should experience. It truly melts your heart.”