Special Olympics Missouri’s Annual Award Winners Announced

Jennifer Neihouse, Jeff Fugett, Mike and Kathy Lowry and the Hewlett family were all recognized for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Missouri at the 2014 SOMO Annual Awards Luncheon Jan. 18 in Branson. Each year, Special Olympics Missouri salutes those who have made significant contributions to the Special Olympics movement.

Outstanding Athlete: Jennifer Neihouse, Lee’s Summit 

Jennifer Neihouse has everything a coach could want in an athlete–hustle, hard work, Jennifer Neihouse Athlete of the Yearalways smiling, cheering, great team work, willingness to try new sports and then some!  She participates in bowling, track, swimming, basketball, bocce, softball and powerlifting.  She would do more if we offered it and it fit her schedule!

Jennifer is currently tackling a swimming routine to improve her times so she can do well at this summer’s USA Games in New Jersey.  Once again, we have challenged Jennifer to work hard at a sport that is not easy nor her best one but once again she is doing the work and making improvements so she can do her very best.

Jennifer also exhibits a love for promoting the program and has taken the steps to be a Global Messenger.  She has given her time to go out and promote the message of Special Olympics to many groups in KC.

Outstanding Volunteer: Jeff Fugett, Bolivar

Jeff Fugett is a trooper with the Missouri Highway Patrol and has been involved with SOMO since 2000.  In his time with SOMO he has served on various committees and participated in the Torch Run every year.  Jeff also has volunteered his time at various events as well as hosting an area basketball tournament and has served for several years on the water crew at Summer Games.

At the 2013 State Summer Games, Jeff decided to come up early and help coordinate aJeff Fugget Volunteer of the Year group of officers to set up the games.  He then participated in the final leg of the Torch Run to open the games.  When medal presenters didn’t show, he stepped in and helped present medals to the athletes.  On top of what he did at Summer Games last year, he then did the same thing at Fall Games, helping with the tear down of each venue.

In addition to his volunteering at events, he is also a Super Plunger raising a minimum of $2,500.  He has been a Super Plunger for many years and truly does NOT enjoy jumping in the icy cold waters at the Lake of the Ozarks 24 times in 24 hours, but does so because he believe in the mission and in the nearly 17,000 athletes in Missouri.

Outstanding Coaches: Mike and Kathy Lowry, Independence 

Kathy and Mike Lowry are both dedicated, passionate and selfless coaches who give their all to Special Olympics Missouri.  The two-for-one package is hard to break.  Mike and Kathy are coaches who work on improving their athlete’s lives by growing them as Lowrys Coach of the Yearleaders both on and off the playing field.  They are always looking for better ways to improve their athletes’ skills.  They often give their time on a free weekend to travel to sports clinics and other activities, so the athletes can learn new skills and improve others.  Mike and Kathy offer seven different sports at William Chrisman High School, but when athletes want to play a sport they do not offer, the Lowrys find a team for athletes to play on, and make sure they get to practice.

Besides these duties, they both volunteer their time as key Volunteer Managers at the area & state level competition.  Both Mike and Kathy also bring their talents to Sports Camp for a week, in order to help make camp a wonderful experience fort the athletes.  It’s nice to count on them as they can be moved around at events to assist with different activities and they will make it fun for everyone.

Outstanding Family: The Hewletts, Warrenton

The Hewlett family is a family that goes above andHewletts Family of the Year beyond to build awareness for Special Olympics Missouri.  Kim Hewlett is the mother of D.J., Emily and Sarah.  Emily and Sarah are both athletes in the program.  D.J. is their older brother and he volunteers in a variety of ways as a chaperone, Unified Partner and venue coordinator.

Kim is a single mom who works a very demanding full-time job.  She is an advocate not just for her own children, but for others as well.

D.J. works full time at the sheltered workshop and goes to college in the evenings.  D.J. applied for the job at the workshop because of his sisters and his involvement with Special Olympics and his love for working with individuals with special needs.

 

SOMO: It runs in the Lang family

Special Olympics runs in the family for the Langs of Dittmer, 30 miles southwest of St. Louis. Amanda, 21, plays as a Unified Partner with her brother Alex, 16. Amanda and Alex have been involved with Special Olympics for five years through NextStep for Life. Their mother also helps coach for the agency.

Alex and Amanda Lang share their love of Special Olympics Missouri

Alex competes in five sports through the agency: bocce, track & field, basketball, softball and flag football. Amanda joined the basketball team as a Unified Partner and was able to compete at State Summer Games, earning a silver medal. That competition proved to be one of her favorite moments with SOMO.“After receiving our silver medals at State Summer Games, I realized I wanted to be more involved with Special Olympics. I walked off the court when we finished and told my mom I wanted to be involved in Special Olympics like Terri [Dallas, Leisure Services Coordinator at NextStep for Life].”

Experiencing such a powerful moment, Amanda decided to change educational and career paths to continue involvement. “I transferred to Missouri State University and declared a double major in psychology and gerontology”, said Amanda. Her eventual goal is to work for an agency similar to NextStep for Life as a Recreation Coordinator.

Amanda says Special Olympics Missouri is important her and her family. “My experience with Special Olympics has had a great impact on my life. I love being able to help my athletes achieve their goals and have fun playing sports that they love.”

Amanda continued with, “[SOMO] is the most rewarding experience I have ever been a part of and I think once someone volunteers or begins coaching Special Olympics, it stays with you. You learn a lot about life, how to always have fun and enjoy every minute.”

What is your Special Olympics Missouri experience? How has Special Olympics Missouri impacted your life? Visit http://www.somo.org/mystory to tell us!

Rewarding Volunteer Experiences

I’m writing to express my gratitude to SOMO, and the very special athletes, as well as the opportunity to volunteer my time. Although I have only recently volunteered a few times –  once at a basketball tournament in Wentzville and once at the Area Spring Games Track and Field event – it’s clear that I will continue my volunteer efforts to support these athletes and this fine organization.

I will try to express and share my brief experiences, but the old adage of “a picture is worth a thousand words” certainly applies here. I also recognize and understand that there are many other volunteers that are more qualified and experienced than me to share an opinion; however if you are giving consideration to becoming a volunteer for SOMO, please read through my thoughts and then “just do it.” You will have no regrets or you may think like I have and wonder why I haven’t done this sooner.

My first experience, as mentioned, was in Wentzville where I worked keeping score for several basketball games. The players were adults who truly played the game for how it was intended. Observing the commitment of the coaches who reinforced the importance of teamwork, following the rules of the game, and fairness to players was clearly evident. The athletes themselves played the game at a high level with a sincerity and passion that you must observe in person. The genuine satisfaction and enjoyment in making a good pass and/or shot, and care for their teammates and the other team was always evident. The sportsmanship displayed during and after the game to everyone, including us scorekeepers, referees, and each other would warm anyones heart. The athletes simply appreciated the opportunity to compete. All levels of competitive sports could take lessons and learn from these athletes. I had only signed up for the morning session, but I assure you I didn’t want to leave. Actually, I then visited the school across the parking lot which was also hosting games, to see if additional help was needed. Fortunately, I was able to spend more time providing assistance for those games, as well.

My second experience was at the Area Spring Games for Track and Field. I volunteered to be a “buddy” where I was assigned an athlete with the responsibility of being with them throughout the day to ensure that they attended each of their events. I was amazed at the number of volunteers, at least several hundred, anxiously ready to take on their assignment. The coordination and organization of the activities was admirable. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to Katie Heald, a 9-year little girl, who had the energy and enthusiasm of several athletes. She truly brought a smile to everyone at every event she participated. I also had the opportunity to meet Katie’s mom and her 12 year-old sister Jennifer, who also was a participating athlete, in the morning, as well as enjoy lunch together. After lunch, we took a few photos, and then continued on with the events. The excitement of receiving medals by the athletes and their families is also a “must see”. Katie’s events were completed early in the day, so once again I found myself not wanting to leave. I just observed people for about another hour in amazement and was humbled and honored to be a part of the day.

I have had many great experiences in the field of education, where I have recently retired; however the gratification from the connection to these athletes and families, as well as other volunteers is second to none. Observing the coaches, proud families, athletes, coordinators, and other volunteers will want you coming back for more. I hope this encourages more people to set aside time to support the fine organization of SOMO, especially these fine athletes.

– Dave Rogowski

We have volunteer opportunities throughout the year. Learn more on our website. 

Ray Lauer and Linda Wiederholt Inducted into SOMO Hall of Fame

The SOMO Hall of Fame was created in 1997 by the Board of Directors as a way to recognize longevity and achievement of athletes and volunteers within the organization. A voting committee, appointed by the SOMO Chairperson of the Board, is responsible for reviewing all nominations and voting on no more than two inductees in each category.  To be inducted, finalists must be named on 75% of the ballots. A permanent display, housed in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield, features photos of each year’s Special Olympics Missouri Hall of Fame inductees.

The 2012 inductees were announced Jan. 19 at our awards banquet in Branson, and they were enshrined in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 27 in Springfield. You can read the prerequisites and download a nomination form on our website.

Ray LauerRay Lauer, Hillsboro (volunteer)

As a Deputy Chief with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, Ray became involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics Missouri in the early 1990s. He eventually became the Chair of the LETR, a position which he held for seven years. During that time, the LETR doubled the funds it raised in Missouri and reached the $1,000,000 mark for the first time. Also during his tenure, Missouri was chosen as host for the International LETR Conference. Hosted in St. Louis, the conference launched Missouri’s LETR permanently onto the international stage, setting a high bar for future international conferences.

After his retirement in October of 2003, he served on the Board of Directors until 2011. During that time, he served on the executive committee of the Board as secretary. He remains active in the LETR and on the St. Louis Over the Edge committee, as well as volunteering at the Polar Plunge.

ray andy bev lauerIt is through Ray’s quiet demeanor and selfless attitude that he has had the greatest impact. An intangible impact is that through his example, all of his children followed in his footsteps in many ways. All three sons and one daughter became involved, either by volunteering at events or fundraising. His son Matt served as a staff member and his son Paul won the Wheels for Winners Raffle in 2011. Ray’s involvement will continue as a fan of SOMO as his grandson, Andy, born in 2008 with Down syndrome, looks forward to one day being a Special Olympics athlete.

Linda WiederholtLinda Wiederholt, Kansas City (volunteer)

Besides time with her family or with her job as a 6th grade math teacher, the vast majority of Linda’s time and energy is spent enhancing SOMO.

Linda became involved with SOMO in the 1980s because her brother, Daniel Schieber, joined a program in the Northwest Area. Linda once said “Special Olympics for me has been giving back to a program that has made my brother’s life. Friendships have grown throughout the state so much that I now refer to Special Olympics families as my extended family.”

She has been actively involved in both the Northwest Area and in the Kansas City Metro Area for decades. She participates in every facet of Special Olympics, including coaching, fundraising, mentoring, leadership, planning committees and recruiting athletes, volunteers, Unified Partners and youth. Linda is a member of the KC Metro Games Management Team. Even if she is actively coaching a sport, she takes part as the GMT and is always the first person there to help set up an the last to leave. She coaches and attends SOMO’s Sports Camp each year in Mexico, Mo. Linda attends and assists with all major Missouri events each year, including district, regional and state competitions and Leadership Conference. She attends and assists with KC Metro Area fundraising including the Dare to Dream Golf Scramble, Broadway Bridge Run, Polar Plunge and fundraising for her team. She is an active adviser on the Youth Activation Committee and Project UNIFY. Linda prepared and trained athletes for the Special Olympics National Conference held in Kansas City in 2000 and was a Global Messenger trainer.

Brittany pose medal cropLinda has expanded the Park Hill district from seven athletes to more than 100, and she continues to seek out and take on more athletes every sports season. She has greatly expanded the sports program, coordinating basketball, softball, track and field, tennis, bocce, bowling, golf and soccer.

She has been recognized for her excellence within SOMO through winning the Outstanding Coach award in 2007. She was selected  twice to coach Team Missouri for National Games. Her birth family, the Schiebers, won Outstanding Family in 2001, and in 2012 her “married life” family, the Wiederholts, were nominated for Outstanding Family in the KC Metro Area.

Do you know someone deserving of this award? Download a nomination form for the athlete category or non-athlete category

2012 SOMO Annual Award Winners

Matt Cepeda, Emily Reyes, Terri Dallas and the Rash family were all recognized for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Missouri at the 2013 Leadership Conference Jan 19-20 in Branson. Each year, Special Olympics Missouri salutes those who have made significant contributions to the Special Olympics movement throughout the past year. Each area nominee is submitted for statewide recognition, and the overall winners were announced at the Leadership Conference.

Outstanding Athlete Matthew CepedaOUTSTANDING ATHLETE: Matthew Cepeda, Kansas City Metro Area

At competitions Matt can always been seen trying his hardest and cheering for others. What is most impressive about Matt is his ability to be a leader in his school. He has become a huge voice around Missouri, but especially in Kansas City, for recruiting youth volunteers. He is the chairman for his school’s Fan Club and is the co-chair of Missouri’s Youth Activation Council. Beyond all this, Matt gives 100 percent to whatever sport he is playing, which says volumes since he plays eight sports!

Outstanding Volunteer Emily ReyesOUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER: Emily Reyes, Southwest Area

During her freshman year in high school in 2005, Emily volunteered to help with her school’s Special Olympics team. After that introduction, he became certified to coach bowling, basketball and track. Since that time, she has served as a counselor at Athlete Sports Camp and participated in many special events. Emily recently finished her four year term on the National Youth Activation Council for Special Olympics, Inc. She’s traveled the country as part of this prestigious group. She continues to stay involved even while in college.

Outstanding Coach Terri DallasOUTSTANDING COACH: Terri Dallas, St. Louis Metro Area

For the past 25 years, Terri has coached SOMO athletes. She has brought countless athletes out of their shell and introduced them to a new way to make friends and build confidence through sports. She organizes and coaches six sports and hundreds of athletes in Jefferson County. When one of Terri’s athletes qualified for the 2011 World Games in bocce, Terri was inspired to begin fundraising for a state-of-the-art bocce court for all the athletes through her program.

Outstanding Family RashOUTSTANDING FAMILY: The Rash family, Northwest Area 

The success of the Lake Viking Polar Plunge is due in large part to the Rash Family. Six years ago they stepped up to start the plunge at Lake Viking. Both Judy and James pour their heart and soul into the planning and fundraising for this event. James has become a coach for their son Pierce’s basketball and flag football teams. The whole family continues to seek new ways to improve our program and offer opportunities for everyone to participate.

Congratulations to all of our winners! Their outstanding contributions helped make this a great year for Special Olympics Missouri.

Laberer Family Reaps Rewards On and Off the Playing Field

The success of a program or organization can be defined in a multitude of ways.

For the Laberer family of Union, you don’t have to look any further than their daughter, Michelle, to see that Special Olympics Missouri has been a huge success for them.

“The thing that has meant to most to me is watching her at the dances and things. … In school they don’t get to do those things; she didn’t go to school dances or compete in school sports and with SOMO she does,” said her mother, Barbara.

“She has more independence and a sense of pride about everything she has accomplished through SOMO.”

Spreading her wings

Michelle Laberer

Michelle Laberer competes in flag football, aquatics, bowling, basketball and track and field.

Michelle started participating in SOMO events at the age of 7, but it wasn’t until a few years later that her parents started taking her to events outside of the St. Louis Metro Area.

“That’s really the first opportunity she had to kind of break away from us,” Barbara said. “I’m a really overprotective mom … but we would let her stay with the coaches. It really did give her a little bit more freedom.”

In the beginning Michelle was timid at events and around others, but after some time, she really blossomed.

“I think SOMO has really made a huge difference in her life,” Barbara said. “There are people she sees at every state event and they talk and hang out. It’s just really cool. It’s exciting.”

Making that money

Michelle graduated from Union High School in 2007 and now, at the age of 25, works at Sheltered Workshop in Washington, Mo., a not-for-profit that provides employment opportunities for people with physical, mental and developmental disabilities.

For the past eight years, Michelle has worked on various tasks under her supervisor Betty Obermire who said Michelle has come a long way since the first day she walked through the door.

“As the years go by, you see that she got a little more outgoing,” Obermire said. “They do start to socialize a little more and she’s doing excellent.”

She said Michelle is always on time and takes her work very seriously like any other regular job.

“She’s very dependable. Some workers like to roam, but she stays on task,” Obermire said. “She’s a real asset for us.”

Family matters

For the Laberer family, SOMO is more than just a few sporting events every year.
Just like SOMO offers sports during every month, Michelle takes full advantage of all of those opportunities, participating in swimming, bowling, basketball, track and field and flag football.

Michelle appeared with St. Louis Rams player Robert Quinn on a billboard for SOMO this fall.

Michelle appeared with St. Louis Rams player Robert Quinn on a billboard for SOMO this fall.

Barbara said her oldest daughter, Rachel, has been volunteering for SOMO for many years.

“She has been a Unified Partner with Michelle in bowling … she does the Polar Plunge and more,” Barbara said.

While she does not necessarily have a favorite part about SOMO, Michelle said her favorite sport is bowling because, “I get a lot of medals.”

With her mom’s guidance as a coach, Michelle has racked up the awards over the years, totaling more than 100 medals.

“Like I said before, it just gives her more independence and something to brag about. She has this sense of pride now,” Barbara said. “When she gets a medal, she has to wear it for a week and show everybody at work.”

A happy ending

In what may be the best ending to any story ever, Barbara said through SOMO Michelle has made many friends, but one boy in Moberly stands out from the rest.

“Eight years ago she met a boy at a state bowling tournament and they are still dating,” she said. “We try to meet up once a month.

“They’re talking about even getting married, which may just be a possibility. We’ve thought about adding on an apartment to our house because neither of them can really live on their own.

“That’s just been a huge life-altering thing that came from SOMO. It’s just been really cool.”

Barbara said her favorite part of being a mother of a SOMO athlete and a coach is just seeing the athletes succeed.

“You see someone get a strike, turn around, scream and throw their hands in the air … that’s awesome.

“They get to be themselves.”

Bernhardt serves community in and out of SOMO

When Justin Bernhardt became involved with Special Olympics, he was a shy and reserved teenager. To meet him now, you would have trouble believing that. Over the course of his years as a SOMO athlete, Justin has grown into one of the strongest young leaders in the state – inside or outside of Special Olympics.

He was one of only five freshmen named to Hazelwood West High School’s student council and currently serves as co-president of the Youth Activation Council for SOMO. This year, he attended the Missouri Association of Student Councils Leadership Workshop and SOMO’s Sports Camp in back-to-back weeks, sharing what he learned with both groups.

“MASC teaches me different things that I can take back to my school to help our student council,” Justin says. “Even though we both do things maybe in different ways, we still have the same goal.”

YAC is currently developing future plans for the “Spread The Word To End The Word” campaign across the state, a movement encourages people to end the use of the word “retarded.” Justin is responsible for starting that campaign at his high school.

“The partnership with MASC and SOMO is working so well because they really are about the same thing and that’s teaching others that we are all the same in one way or another,” Justin says.

After his week with MASC, Justin was fired up to engage with his friends at SOMO’s Athlete Sports Camp and to serve as one of three veteran campers arriving early to help set up. At the dance on Thursday night, Justin joined Matt Cepeda and Rachel Antal in teaching the entire camp a dance they learned at MASC’s workshop. He says the best part, though, is always trying new sports and meeting new athletes and volunteers.

“I got inspired by the other athletes too,” Justin says. “It helped me kind of accept my challenges a lot more.”