WARNER ROBINS -- For the past decade, Houston County has given people with special needs something that many take for granted: a chance to compete, test their strengths and their willpower.
But, due to financial hurdles, the program is limited when it comes to Special Olympics. Organizers are attempting to expand the program, but they need the publics help.
The program is in the running for a $25,000 neighborhood assistance grant from State Farm. It is one of 200 organizations competing for the grants, which will be awarded to the top 40 finalists in an online voting competition.
Anyone with a Facebook account can vote 10 times a day for his or her favorite organization, and Houston County Special Olympics organizers are asking for votes.
Currently, Houston County is in 59th place. Voting ends April 22.
It would be an immediate impact, said Christy Jones, Houston County schools orthopedic teacher. This will help them grow as athletes.
The school districts special education department applied for the grant.
The district Special Olympics program already has expanded. In the past, the program offered a one-day track-and-field event, but that has grown to include extra sports and more coaches, Jones said.
Still, some areas offer Special Olympics events every weekend, and that is the long-term goal for Houston County, she said. About 320 Houston County students participate in Special Olympics.
When writing a proposal for the State Farm grant, Jones pressed the need to fund more equipment, train more coaches and transport athletes to statewide events.
With the help of the grant, Houston County hopes to provide year-round training for Special Olympics athletes, said Brenda Arnett, adapted physical education specialist for the district.
The program is planning to send athletes to two state Special Olympics events this year. They attended a basketball competition and are scheduled to attend a volleyball event, both in Atlanta. But those trips incur travel, food and lodging expenses, which add up, Jones said.
It will mean so much more because we can take more kids to state, Arnett said, and actually train them and provide more activities for the kids.
About 3,000 organizations applied for the grant, and that number was narrowed to 200 by State Farms Youth Advisory Board, a group of 30 students who are passionate about social responsibility. The total grant amount is $1 million, which will be split among the winners, said Justin Tomczak, spokesman for State Farm in Georgia.
Then, the online voting began. The point of the program is to encourage communities to work together for a good cause, and a variety of projects were submitted. In Georgia, the projects range from Special Olympics to equine therapy to job programs for youth.
The purpose of the competition is to bring neighborhoods together, Tomczak said, and get them engaged, not just in the community, but trying to support a good, local cause.
To vote for Houston County, visit apps.facebook.com/sf_neighbor_assist/, choose the state of Georgia from the map and then click on the Special Olympics Funding icon. Users of Facebook also can search for State Farm Neighborhood Assist at the top of their home page.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.