GRAND RAPIDS, MI, [June 24, 2021] — Earlier today, the leaders of Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) announced the Building Tomorrow’s Champions campaign, a multi-million-dollar fundraising effort to renovate and transform the former South Christian High School into the world’s largest Special Olympics facility, known as the Special Olympics Unified Sports and Inclusion Center.
Founded in 1968, Special Olympics Michigan provides year-round sports training and athletic competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities and serves more than 23,000 athletes and their families through twenty-four sports. With the help of over 32,000 community volunteers, SOMI helps its athletes develop physical fitness and sports skills while deepening friendships with other athletes, coaches, volunteers and fans. As importantly, SOMI’s focus on inclusion brings people together, changes attitudes, and improves the region by including a population that is often marginalized.
Launched in 2020, the Building Tomorrow’s Champions campaign has raised more than $6.7 million over the past year to renovate the facility.
Over 100 community donors, local businesses, and area foundations have supported the campaign to date. SOMI leadership also highlighted the many partnering agencies that will lease space in the 127,000 sq. ft. facility. The agencies include:
- Autism Support of Kent County
- Brody’s Be Café
- Disability Advocates of Kent County
- Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan
- Far Out Volleyball Club
- Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan/be nice
Tim Hileman, President and CEO of Special Olympics Michigan pointed to these partnerships as a key element of SOMI’s long-term plan to better serve those with disabilities in the region. “From the beginning, our team set out with a plan to create a model of collaboration and an inclusive environment to support persons with disabilities. By sharing the same facility, our partners can learn from each other, complement programs and services, and provide greater opportunities as we help to empower and build tomorrow’s champions,” said Hileman.
When finished, the renovated campus will feature new sports fields across the 17-acre property, expanded space for programming, administrative offices, and educational and wellness space for those served by Special Olympics and its partners. The campus is anticipating hosting regional, statewide, national and international competitions that are expected to generate millions in economic development for West Michigan over the coming years.
At today’s public announcement of the fund drive, Juliet Dragos (Lead News Anchor for WZZM), and Brian Calley (former Lieutenant Governor and current President of the Small Business Association of Michigan), and operational chairs of the campaign invited the public to join in the fundraising effort which will continue through the end of the year.
“As we work to provide the very best in programs for children, teens and adults, I’m so pleased to be part of an effort that brings such joy to our athletes and their families,” said Dragos. “When we open, we know that demand is going to surge, as many families get involved with Special Olympics for the first time,” she said.
Calley announced that the campaign has received broad support from local and regional foundations, area businesses, and generous community donors. “We’ve been so fortunate to receive many gifts to this important campaign, and to have accomplished this during the pandemic speaks volumes about West Michigan and the generosity of our community.” “Our Campaign Cabinet joins me in thanking our donors for their meaningful gifts. We now invite the larger community to help us complete this campaign effort. We welcome gifts of all sizes,” he said.
This announcement marks the beginning of the public phase of the campaign, which when completed, will total over $20 million in investments in the future of SOMI’s athletes, their coaches, families, and friends.
“This is an exceptional opportunity for the community to show our support for those with unique challenges,” said Dragos. “With your help, we know that those with disabilities in our community will thrive,” she said.