Our employees make us who we are and what we stand for—and many have inspired us with their dedication to diversity and inclusion. Below are stories of our Bank of America colleagues who have made an impact by volunteering with Special Olympics.
Jump to a spotlight story:
- Christine Costamagna, employee and Special Olympics volunteer
- Joe Leveridge, employee and Special Olympics volunteer
- Keith Driftmier, employee and former Special Olympics event planner
- Stefanie Leehan, Special Olympics volunteer
Having started the Special Olympics tennis program in her community of Marin County in California, Bank of America Assistant Corporate Secretary Christine Costamagna has a unique perspective on Special Olympics.
A tennis player herself, Christine was introduced to Special Olympics by her mother, who was a swim coach. Christine was looking for a volunteer opportunity and realized that her local chapter didn’t include a tennis program. Fifteen years later, the program works with, on average, 20 athletes every season.
“Special Olympics went from being an organization that served athletes with more traditional developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, to one that includes autism and many other intellectual disabilities. The expansion of the population focus has produced more opportunities for people to get involved in the program and created more external exposure.”
And she didn’t stop there. Christine also helped establish Marin’s Best, a nonprofit supporting people with intellectual disabilities in various aspects of their lives, including social outings, local dances and underwriting sports programs. She also volunteers with the United States Tennis Association at the national and sectional levels, including outreach to underserved communities. Recently, Christine also volunteered her time at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.
“I do all of this because I love tennis and I cherish the interaction with the athletes. I want others to share the same experiences with these extraordinary people,” says Christine, who is especially pleased when she sees teenagers in her community get involved. “For middle-school and high-school kids, Special Olympics serves as a great introduction to volunteerism. Everyone can give some of their time back to others in the community and get immediate gratification from the athletes that they help.”
When Special Olympics World Games commenced in Los Angeles this summer, volunteers from all over the globe had the opportunity to connect and share their stories. For London-based Bank of America employee Joe Leveridge, that story has taken him around the globe, led by his dedication to the movement for diversity and inclusion, as well as a passion for sports.
Joe first became aware of Special Olympics as a student at Bath University in the UK. He volunteered for the Great Britain National Summer Games in 2013, assisting with preparations and the ultimate realization of the event. An athlete himself, Joe was impressed by the caliber of competition.
“Special Olympics caters to all abilities and ages, and what I feel is most important is that they provide meaningful competition. Yes—the athletes have fun, but they train hard, are extremely passionate about their sports and want to win. And I want to help them succeed.”
“I had an incredible experience and wanted to see what more I could do for the organization,” says Joe, who eventually travelled with a group of volunteers to the All Ireland Games in Limerick in 2014, and the first-ever Polar Plunge event in London. As a member of the EMEA Disability Network, he also helped organize the inaugural volunteer day at a regional athletics competition in North London.
This summer, Joe enjoyed his first opportunity to support the World Games in Los Angeles. “America is very much the home of Special Olympics, with so much history and passion for the Special Olympics movement,” says Joe, who finds inspiration in that movement.
“Being around Special Olympics athletes enriches your life and makes you a better person,” says Keith Driftmier, a Senior Vice President and Wealth Management Advisor at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.
While many Bank of America employees have shared personal experiences with Special Olympics that have shaped their lives, Keith Driftmier connected with the organization on a professional level, and found it equally moving. As the former Sports Venue Event Planner for Special Olympics International in Washington, D.C., he oversaw athletics programs and developed the venues where athletes would eventually compete.
“At the end of the day, Special Olympics athletes are still athletes. They have a desire to compete just as much as anybody else. I thought it was my job to give them an opportunity to compete at the highest level they possibly could with the best venues, and the best equipment.”
During the seven years that Keith spent with Special Olympics, his work took him around the globe, from New Haven, Connecticut—where he had the arduous task of updating a swimming pool to meet the specifications for Special Olympics competition—to Katmandu, Nepal, where a monsoon once thwarted his travel back home.
Though there were some challenges, Keith looks fondly upon his time with Special Olympics. It was especially gratifying to see the athletes compete in a space he had developed. “It’s such a rewarding experience because at the end of the day, when you walked away from any venue, you knew that you impacted the lives of so many people.”
Those experiences have stayed with him, even through his current work with Merrill Lynch. “Special Olympics made me realize that everybody can achieve to their own highest level. Whether it’s Special Olympics, or my clients, or my kids, I try to always encourage people to achieve to the highest level possible.”
“Just shoot for the moon, the only limitations are the ones you place upon yourself.”
As a VP, Process Design Consultant with Bank of America Consumer Operations under Global Technology & Operations, Stefanie Leehan already has her hands full, however that doesn’t stop her from donating her free time to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Star Veterans Center, the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville (DSAJ) and Special Olympics.
Stefanie explains that the intellectually disabled community is particularly close to her heart, since two of her cousins have Down syndrome. When Stefanie’s cousin Addison joined the family 11 years ago, “We knew prenatally that Addison had Down syndrome. Our family quickly joined together to educate ourselves so as to provide a fully inclusive life for this little girl.” They organized a Family Night around weekly American Sign Language classes, and Stefanie deepened her awareness of organizations that support the intellectually disabled community. In 2012, when another cousin of Stefanie’s gave birth to Nadia, who also has Down syndrome, “the family immediately gathered around and ensured they had the support and information needed as they began this journey. Addison was so thrilled when she was told she had a new friend just like her.”
Motivated by her experience within her own family, Stefanie eventually joined the Board of Directors of the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville, which promotes inclusion and acceptance of people with Down syndrome. “Being involved with general fundraising, board work and child care during events, my heart has been opened to the exponential abilities of all of those with Down syndrome,” said Stefanie.
“The time the bank gives to each employee to volunteer each week has helped me personally to be able to give back to not only the Down Syndrome Association but to many other areas where there is opportunity,” said Stefanie. “Our company’s deep commitment to not only Special Olympics but to also employing employees with all disabilities is encouraging.”
Ultimately, by giving back to Special Olympics, Stefanie feels she gains an invaluable perspective, and the sense that “nothing is impossible.”
“Many times, I have seen those without intellectual disabilities make a big deal about the little things they can’t do, but they don’t make a plan to improve. Through my participation with Special Olympics and other disability organizations, I hope that people see a potential path to start finding ways to improve themselves by getting to know these amazing individuals.”