With approximately 85 countries expected to participate in the 2009 Special Olympics Winter World Games in February of that year in Idaho, the Games Organizing Committee is initiating a "host town program." The program is intended to promote public awareness about Special Olympics, seek increased public involvement and promote cultural exchange.
Special Olympics was created when Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a day camp for people with intellectual disabilities at her home in 1962.
The host town program will begin prior to the February 2008 Invitational Games and the 2009 Winter World Games. Each delegation will arrive in its designated host town four days prior to the games. Each host town will provide transportation, housing, meals and training facilities for each of the sports, along with entertainment and activities that will showcase Idaho, its culture, and the local communities.
"Integration is a key component," said Pirie Grossman, chair of the 2009 Special Olympics Winter World Games "But it's truly a transformative experience. The host town program is relatively new. Ireland credits the program with having Northern Ireland police and Southern Ireland police talk for the first time."
A Sun Valley resident, Grossman and her husband, Jim, spearheaded the drive to bring the games to Boise. The event will be the largest multi-day winter sports competition ever in the state, with 3,000 guests, 6,000 volunteers and more than 9,000 guests and media.
"For some of the athletes, this will be the first time they have been on American soil," Grossman said. "It helps them feel comfortable. By February 2009, you've gotten to know the athletes and can cheer them on. Jon Thorson and Randy Hall (mayors of Sun Valley and Ketchum, respectively) are so excited about this. We will probably have three to four delegations here, probably Europeans who compete in alpine, Nordic, and skating."
Host towns are responsible for creating and facilitating schedules for transportation, housing, meal, training and local activities in their cities.
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Even though the Special Olympics will be held in Boise and at nearby Bogus Basin ski area, the towns of the Wood River Valley still have the opportunity to get in on the experience.
People are always asking how they can help," Grossman said. "There are many ways. They can stop by the office at 140 W. Second Street in Ketchum and talk to us. There are educational programs, the host town program, open up homes, host a party or have a concert. They love dances more than anything."
For financial relief, donors can adopt an athlete for $5,000, or adopt a delegation for $50,000.
A good example of an ingenious way to be involved is the grassroots project "Tulip the Town," a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization in Boise that began raising money for Special Olympics 2009 in 2006. It was started by a 14-year-old student. In exchange for a donation, students plant tulip bulbs at homes and businesses.
"Just go for it," Grossman said. "I don't think people realize what a gift this is to the state of Idaho. These athletes may be slower in reading but they'll beat your butt on the track. Sports is the common denominator."