The Robert Livermore Community Center was perhaps the safest place to be in all of Northern California earlier this year, as more than 150 members of law enforcement gathered for the 2017 Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR) Kickoff Conference to benefit Special Olympics Northern California.
City officers, highway patrol officers, corrections officers, sheriffs, K9 officers – even members of the Coast Guard – all came together for the annual conference, which kicks off the year of fundraising and events for Special Olympics. Law enforcement divisions nationwide have pledged to support Special Olympics and raise money and awareness through the LETR, among other events.
The LETR, law enforcement’s largest fundraising event, features officers and Special Olympics athletes (together known as the “Guardians of the Flame”) carrying the Flame of Hope to local, regional and statewide competitions. The runs raise awareness for Special Olympics, often happening through the center of towns or major public areas, and also generate significant funding through donations and sponsorships garnered by the officers. LETR events have generated in excess of $12 million for Special Olympics Northern California since 1996.
The conference was hosted by Special Olympics Northern California President and CEO David Solo and Santa Clara Assistant Chief of Police Dan Winter, along with several keynote speakers. Winter was recently selected to represent Special Olympics Northern California at the 2017 Special Olympics Winter Games in Austria and will serve as a “Guardian of the Flame®,” joining a team of delegates from around the world on the Final Leg Team. His group will run the Flame of Hope through 45 cities, towns and communities across Austria, culminating at the Opening Ceremonies in Schladming, Austria, on March 18.
Winter and Solo headlined the conference, which featured recaps and goals for fundraising numbers, awards for the top 2016 fundraising agencies and a number of breakout sessions to discuss Digital Engagement, an introduction to Torch Run, Connecting with Corrections, Unified Sports, and Polar Plunge and Sponsorships. Members of the LETR Executive Council and Special Olympics Northern California staff led each session to educate the varying officers on means to fundraise, resources at their disposal and background on the programs.
Featured throughout the conference was Special Olympics athlete Katy and her aunt (and longtime coach), Suzy Andrade. Katy was involved in a number of the discussion sessions, awards presentations and later spoke to the group in whole about her experience as an athlete, and how Special Olympics has impacted her life. Andrade complemented Katy’s speech with her own story, discussing how she got into coaching, why she continues to support Special Olympics and how the Polar Plunge helps to raise the money needed to keep these programs striving.
“I love to train and compete in sports and Special Olympics has programs for people with disabilities, like me, all for free,” said Katy. “In Special Olympics, sometimes we win and sometimes we don’t. But we always love getting our medals from the police officers and firefighters. Thank you all so much!”
Also in attendance as an honored guest was District 11 Assemblymember Jim Frazier, who played an instrumental role in Special Olympics Northern California and Special Olympics Southern California being awarded federal funding from the state for 2017; and successfully adding the Special Olympics Fund to the voluntary contributions section of the California income tax form.
“Special Olympics holds a very special place in my heart,” said Frazier. “The athletes keep inspiring me and they make me feel like a better person. I will tell you that you have my full commitment for the rest of the eight years that I’m in the legislature to improve the quality of life for the developmentally-disabled community. Also understand my unwavering support for all of public safety. I cannot thank you enough. And if you ever need me, I’ve got your six.”
Each member of law enforcement had their own story and reason for supporting Special Olympics, both personally and through their respective departments.
”We are very much connected with athletes and coaches of Special Olympics,” said Ernie Sanchez, assistant chief of the Golden Gate Division of California Highway Patrol. “Sometimes people ask, ‘Why would law enforcement be involved with Special Olympics?’ It think the correct answer is, why would we not be involved? It’s an opportunity to reach out into the community, connect with the athletes, watch them compete – maybe even give them a hug or a handshake. The personal gratification that we take home with us by being able to serve is why we all signed up to be law enforcement officers to begin with.”
Northern California law enforcement officers have kicked off the LETR fundraising campaign! The Torch Run, one of law enforcement’s largest fundraising efforts, beings Friday, June 9, and culminates at the Special Olympics Summer Games Opening Ceremonies for Northern California on Friday, June 23, at University of California, Davis.
“It’s all about inclusion,” said Solo. “Thank you all so much for your support.”
More information is available at www.torchruncalifornia.com