When you talk to Pamela Sparks, you immediately feel her passion for an organization that she not only works for, but one that has improved her family’s quality of life. As the County Director for Special Olympics Florida since 2016, Pamela’s energy and excitement for the organization, its athletes, and families has made an impression. The ultimate objective of Special Olympics Florida is to help people with intellectual disabilities participate as productive and respected members of society at large, by offering them a fair opportunity to develop and demonstrate their skills and talents through sports training and competition, and by increasing the public’s awareness of their capabilities and needs.
Pamela first became involved with Special Olympics as a “Fan in the Stands” in 2005 when her son, Chase, and his teammates participated in basketball through the Silver Sands School. She later volunteered at state games and traveled to other parts of the state for surfing and stand up paddle competitions. In 2016 she was chaperoning state games for golf and realized the organization was without a county director. After lots of thought and prayer, she decided to apply for the job, along with 108 other applicants. Pamela had a 6-figure job and going to work for a non-profit would be life changing for her. She put it in God’s hands and was soon offered the position. The job has rewarded her in many more ways than monetarily. Pamela was active in the community and she took the bull by the horns as the Okaloosa chapter was in dire need of public awareness and needed to additional sports.
Since Pamela’s involvement with the organization there has been substantial growth. State wide, Special Olympics Florida serves nearly 50,000 athletes including Unified partner and Young Athletes. Okaloosa County has been a great contributor to that number. Special Olympics Florida proudly recognized Okaloosa County with three awards in 2018: #1 Medium-sized County for Greatest Percentage Increase in Number of Unified Partners; #1 Medium-sized County for Greatest Percentage of Sports Certifications Added; #1 Medium-sized County for Greatest Percentage of Athlete Health Screenings.
Special Olympics never charges an athlete/unified partner or their parent/caretaker for participation regardless of their demographics or economics. They provide everything from water at practice, to uniforms, transportation, food, and lodging. Special Olympics Florida – Okaloosa County is not government funded – they have to fundraise locally so every dollar matters. It is important for Special Olympic donors to make their contributions locally. Visit www.specialolympicsflorida.org/okaloosa.
Q & A with Pamela Sparks, Okaloosa County Director, Special Olympics Florida
*What is the mission of Special Olympics Florida?
The mission of Special Olympics Florida is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for people with intellectual disabilities who wish to participate, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.
*How many sports are supported by Special Olympics Florida?
18 different sports and multiple teams per sport: Athletics, Bocce, Cycling, Tennis, Soccer, Volleyball, Equestrian, Swimming, Surfing, Golf, Bowling, Gymnastics, Powerlifting, Softball, Flag Football, Cheerleading, Stand Up Paddle, and Basketball.
*What are some ways that the organization cultivates volunteers?
I am a true believer of networking and am currently an ambassador of three different Chambers: FWB, Destin, and Niceville/Valparaiso. I am the vice president of Emerald Coast Public Relations, the past membership chairperson for the Destin Woman’s Club, a volunteer at Bruner Middle School, and a member of First Baptist Church of Mary Esther. I try to keep Special Olympics in the forefront, always looking for new athletes, volunteers, coaches, and sponsors.
*Where does funding come from?
Special Olympics Florida is a not-for-profit organization that is funded primarily through individual and corporate contributions. Each county is responsible for fundraising locally to budget for sports offered within their county. Special Olympics Florida receives no money from The Kennedy Foundation.
*What is the most rewarding part of your involvement with the organization?
Seeing the smiles on the faces of the athletes and being greeted daily with hugs – doesn’t get better than that! Through sports, wellness, and athlete leadership training, Special Olympics provide a community where athletes have a lifelong opportunity to develop physically, socially, and emotionally. The parents, teachers, and I witness the athlete’s transformation from a cocoon to a butterfly.
*What is one thing you want readers to know about Special Olympics Florida?
The most common question asked is “When is Special Olympics?” Special Olympics is not one event, we are 365 days. We have 18 sports with training and competition throughout the year.
Special Olympics Florida is made up of one humbling paid position as the county director and the rest involved are volunteers; with no other paid staff in the county. volunteers are vital and are the backbone of the Special Olympics movement enabling Special Olympics to offer sports training and competition on a worldwide basis. Special Olympics would not exist today without the time, energy, dedication, and commitment of volunteers. We are always in need of year-round, and day-of volunteers. Commitment of time for volunteers ranges to fill a variety of roles: sports training/management, sports competition, administration, families/athlete outreach, finance/fundraising, office support, public information, and promotion/social media and website. We need YOU!