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News Article

Good Sports – UTC Employees Continue a 36 Year Legacy of Volunteerism at the Special Olympics Summer Games

June 12, 2013

Good Sports: UTC Employees' Legacy of Volunteerism Continues at Special Olympics Summer Games

Under brilliant blue skies on Saturday, June 8, members of “Team Alex” sat on the bleachers overlooking the track at New Haven’s Southern Connecticut State University, cheering as Alex Huisman, 8, sprinted past in the 100-meter race. It was just one of the many competitions taking place that day at the 2013 Special Olympics Connecticut (SOCT) Summer Games.

UTC volunteers at the Running Long Jump event congratulate an athlete after a successful jump.
Ginena Du, a Sikorsky EH&S employee, high-fives an athlete at the Field Awards.
UTC volunteers at the track keep time as athletes compete in a men’s running event. UTC employees have supported the Special Olympics Summer Games for 36 years, as highlighted on the back of the volunteer shirts.
Special Olympics athletes receive their awards after competing in a track event. UTC volunteers manage the track awards venue and ensure that all athletes receive recognition.
A Special Olympics athlete, from Colchester, Conn., gets some air while competing in the Running Long Jump.
Dave Erasmus, who manages the Mini Jav & Softball Throw venue, congratulates an athlete after a successful throw. Erasmus, a Pratt & Whitney employee, has volunteered at the Summer Games for more than 20 years.
Employee volunteers at the Track Awards venue letting out a cheer before they kick off the award presentations for the day. This year marked the 36th year that UTC has served as the title sponsor for the track and field segment of the Games.
Along with Alex’s mom Lisa, dad Vic, 10-year-old brother Victor and aunt Christina Mullally, his fan club included Aimee Aiken (his teacher at Jerome Harrison School in North Branford, Conn.) and most of the members of his second-grade class.

It was the first time as a competitor in an SOCT event for Alex, who has autism, and his class pulled out all of the stops to demonstrate their love, support and friendship.

Under Aiken’s guidance, the kids created posters with slogans like “Alex Rocks,” “I am Proud of You,” and “You Amaze Me.” They waved the signs and cheered as Alex ran past in his bright yellow sneakers.

The Connecticut Summer Games, an annual three-day event, involves more than 1,200 intellectually challenged athletes, aged eight to adult, who are competing in track and field, cycling, gymnastics, swimming, soccer and tennis. They are supported and assisted by 500 coaches and more than 2,800 volunteers; the largest single group of volunteers being UTC employees, retirees and their families.

This marks the 36th year that UTC has served as the title sponsor for the track and field segment of the games, and in those three and a half decades, the company’s employees have shown up at the event, rain or shine, to manage the competitions, provide support services like food and first aid, and award medals to the winners. This year, there were more than 600 UTC volunteers at the games during the weekend.

Their commitment and dedication makes Sikorsky President Mick Maurer very proud. “Special Olympics reflects the best in all of us – the spirit, passion and determination of the athletes, devotion of the volunteers, and commitment of the sponsors. You can’t help but be inspired and thankful to be a part of it,” he said. “I take great pride in seeing UTC and its employees play such a leading and indispensable role in supporting the games, year after year after year.”  

John Riccardi, chairman of the SOCT Board and a volunteer with the organization for 35 years, said operating the Summer Games’ track and field component – the largest part of the event – would be virtually impossible without the longstanding and dedicated support of UTC and its employees.

“It’s the lifeline for Special Olympics,” he said of the volunteer resources and corporate funding that UTC provides. “It’s an extremely critical part of the equation. Without them, it would be very difficult to run this.”

SOCT president Beau Doherty couldn’t agree more. One of the most active and innovative Special Olympics organizations in the country, SOCT provides year-round sports training and athletic competition for all ages.

SOCT’s mission is to give children and adults with intellectual disabilities “continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”

Doherty said his organization has been blessed with abundant and dedicated volunteers, without whom it couldn’t accomplish all it does – and UTC is a prime example. In addition to the other support provided by the company, about 20 of its volunteers sit on the Summer Games committee and are heavily involved in planning the event. They also work to recruit volunteers from the across all the UTC businesses. “Together, UTC employees and their families and friends pull together to do everything that has to be done at the games. It really is an inspiring effort,” Doherty said.

At each Summer Games event, UTC volunteers range from veterans to first-timers. Over at the pentathlon tent, Bob and Sandy Gallipeau of Southbridge, Mass., were busily overseeing their athletes. Bob has worked at Pratt & Whitney for 39 years, and began volunteering with Special Olympics 38 years ago. His wife has been volunteering for 28 years.

“Sandy and I were the founders of the pentathlon together,” he said. “Ten years ago, we got separated – I went to shot put – but this year, I came back to the pentathlon.” Bob said he loves everything about it – “the friends you make, the athletes themselves. It’s fun to watch them compete and see how excited they are.”

Sandy said she also loves to see the joy and excitement in the faces of the athletes, and “just to see the changes in them from year to year, watching them grow.” She and Bob have known many of the members from the time they were children, “and now they’re 30-odd years old,” she said, adding that the couple has a cherished picture of themselves with the team members, taken when the athletes were kids.

Bob, who spent two days helping set up for this year’s Summer Games, putting up fencing and the like, also planned to help “tear down” once the event was over.

He said while he has at least four years to go before retirement from Pratt, he doesn’t plan to retire from the games. “It’s too much fun,” he said. Asked what he would tell prospective volunteers who have never tried it, he said, “Come try it once; you’ll get hooked.”

Inside the tent, several first-year volunteers were taking a short break from the hot noonday sun. Margaret Battisti of Naugatuck, Conn., who has worked at Sikorsky Engineering for six years as a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analyst, said she decided to volunteer because “I heard it was a great event.” A group from Sikorsky got together and signed up for the pentathlon area.

And what did she like best about it? “The athletes are inspiring and fun. We’ve made some buddies,” she said. “We enjoy seeing all the people cheering the kids on, smiling and having fun. It’s great!”

One of her teammates, Adesha Celestine of Shelton, Conn., has only been employed with Sikorsky for three weeks, but saw a notice about the Summer Games on the company intranet. The Project Manager with Aerospace Services, who is originally from New York, was looking for volunteer opportunities, and this fit the bill. “It’s just a way of giving back and using my time wisely,” she said. “I like the pride of the kids, and their enthusiasm. I’ll definitely do it again.”

For Brian Miniter, who has worked at Pratt & Whitney for more than 30 years and has volunteered at the games for about 20, the motivation for helping is spurred by gratitude.

A veteran, who saw action in Vietnam, volunteered for Iraq and retired as a sergeant major, Miniter had some friends in the army who never came home from war.

“Some of my friends aren’t here anymore. I’m still alive and having a good time.” So he, like Celestine, decided to invest some of his free time wisely.

“I just saw a need,” he said of the athletes, when asked why he first decided to volunteer. “I thought, ‘If you can do this [compete] year after year, I can do this for you.’ ”

UTC would like to thank the members of the 2013 SOCT planning committee. This dedicated group of employees has been planning for the Summer Games for more than six months.