Volunteers take responsibilities to the next level: Committee members

In 2015, we are focused on highlighting SOMO’s countless volunteers. In this month’s feature, we showcase how committee members help SOMO staff plan and run events.

SOMO’s “day-of volunteers” really make what we do for our 16,500 athletes possible at our 253 trainings and competitions every year. But the volunteers who take their commitment to the next level are the people who work behind the scenes planning those events.

Every SOMO event – competition or fundraiser – has a committee of dedicated volunteers who believe in our mission enough to spend weeks and months ahead of time planning the event.

Pete Leyva of the Osage Beach Police Department has served on the Lake of the Ozarks Polar Plunge committee for 14 of the 20 years the Plunge has been there.

“The planning for our Plunge starts two to two and a half months in advance,” Leyva said. “People are selected to do specific jobs and you’re talking about fundraising, recruitment, sponsorships … there’s quite a bit of planning that goes on with this specific event.”

With close to two dozen people on the committee, it shows how much the community has bought into the event and the organization.

“I couldn’t do what I do without my committee,” said Lake of the Ozarks Plunge Coordinator Crystal Schuster. “They are a diverse group of individuals, with many talents and they truly make this event happen.

Having a committee of local people at our events is essential – they know the community better than anyone, have connections and can hook us up with businesses and organizations that we might never be able to connect with otherwise.”

We like to say that if you volunteer at just one of our events, you’re hooked for life – the same seems to go for serving on our committees as well.

“It’s funny the way I’m involved, it was my first year on duty and my lieutenant called me into his office and said, ‘Guess what you’re doing this weekend … the Polar Bear Plunge,’” Leyva said. “I did that Plunge the first year and then got on the committee that next year and don’t see myself getting off for quite a while.

“It’s not just about doing the Polar Bear Plunge, it’s all about Special Olympics. I mean I’ve been to the events. I’ve been to the Summer Games. I’ve been to the USA Games the first year we had them. … What Special Olympics has done for me even though I give back, I could never give back as much as they’ve given to me.”

In addition to the normal Plunge responsibilities, when Leyva joined the Plunge 14 years ago, he wanted to bring something different to the Plunge that fit another one of his passions – running.

The Polar Bear Strut – a 5k fun run/walk — was born in 2002 and has seen more than 1,638 runners and walkers over the years and has raised more than $106,295.

“It’s a lot on our shoulders, but at the same time I do it for Special Olympics,” Leyva said. “I love Special Olympics. I love the athletes.”

Schuster said Leyva is one of those volunteers who just “gets it” and is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the event runs as smoothly as possible.

“We couldn’t do the Strut without Pete,” Schuster said. “He has been a part of it from the beginning and I cannot even imagine having that event without him. He is able to think outside the box and think of ways to better the event.

“Pete loves running and he loves SOMO – so being able to combine these two things for the Strut is awesome. He truly helps make this event the success that it is.”

Serving on a committee is just one way that people can take their SOMO volunteering to another level and not only is it greatly appreciated by SOMO staff members, but it helps the committee members see a different side of SOMO.

“I’d like to call out people who have been interested in Special Olympics,” Leyva said. “Get on a committee. The athletes need coaches… there are just different ways to volunteer in Special Olympics and all you’ve got to do is get a hold of people at the SOMO office and they’ll find something for you to do.”

Schuster added, “They are able to think outside of the box, many times when I, as a staff member, cannot seem to see beyond the things that we see as the ‘norm’ – and this is what makes our events such a success.

“My committee members have gone above and beyond on so many occasions and many of them have become great friends as well.”

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