By Jason KUROSU
In anticipation of the upcoming Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, a Thursday night VIP reception was held in Glendale, one of 100 host cities for the numerous delegations coming from around the world.
The reception was held at Glendale Adventist’s Play to Learn Pediatric Therapy Center, because of its work with special needs children and its association with Glendale Adventist, the title sponsor for Glendale’s host town program.
Kevin Roberts, Glendale Adventist Medical Center president and CEO, described the connection between Glendale Adventist and the Special Olympics as “obvious.”
“We love the Special Olympics. It’s really about a celebration of life, the beauty of the human spirit. What we do at Glendale Adventist fits really tightly with that,” said Roberts.
Former and current Special Olympians placed medals on the kids from the Play to Learn Center, kids who may one day participate in the Special Olympics themselves. One such prospective Special Olympian was 5-year-old Zhyez Gonzalez, who attended the event with his family and regularly attends the Play to Learn Center.
Zhyez, who was diagnosed with Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, was not initially expected towalk, much less expect to one day compete in athletic competitions, said his father, Robert Gonzalez.
Gonzalez credits the Play to Learn Center for much of Zhyez’s improvement, as its emphasis on family involvement and the routine of activity at the center helped keep Zhyez motivated.
Roberts called the Play to Learn Center “one of the best kept secrets in Glendale” for its work with special needs children.
Others who spoke at the event included Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, who praised the inclusiveness of the Games and expressed joy over Glendale’s host town status.
“Glendale is proud to play a part in the Games by serving as a host city,” said Najarian. “We’re committed towards helping these individuals enjoy some of the things that the rest of us take for granted.”
Glendale is hosting athletes from Armenia, the Dominican Republic and Bonaire.
2015 World Games President and CEO Patrick McClenahan said the World Games would be “the largest sports event Los Angeles has hosted since the 1984 Olympics.”
McClenahan said he learned much about the transformative nature of the Games from his experience with his daughter Kelly, who has cerebral palsy.
“I’ve come to learn over her 28 years of life that the Special Olympics improves good health, self confidence, communication skills, camaraderie and other great opportunities. I’ve come to learn that the greatest single thing that we can do for people with intellectual disabilities is to change the hearts and minds of people without intellectual disabilities.”
McClenahan also praised the commitments made by Glendale and the other host towns towards changing the perception towards people with special needs.
“You’re not just hosting the athletes for a few days. You’re making a commitment to continue to better serve people with intellectual disabilities,” said McClenahan.
Team Glendale has been training for the Games once a week since March, said Coach Todd Hunt. Hunt has been involved with coaching Special Olympics teams for the past five years
The team participated in the Games at Crescenta Valley High School in April and 10 athletes from Team Glendale also went to Long Beach for the Southern California Special Olympics, featuring athletes from across the region.
“These guys are amazing. It has really been an honor to work with them,” said Hunt.
Reception attendees were also allowed to tour the Play to Learn Center, which features gyms and programs for physical therapy, sensory processing, speech therapy, occupational therapy and more. The Play to Learn Center serves around 500 families and is attended by children from ages 1 to 21.
The 2015 Special Olympics World Games will take place from July 25 through Aug. 2, with the opening ceremony at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday at 6 p.m.