SONH Goes To Washington (Virtually)
Capitol Hill Day is an annual event that brings together constituents of an organization and the lawmakers of their respective states. It’s an exchange of information and an opportunity for a group or organization to communicate directly with the people who represent them in our nation’s capital.
When Special Olympics Capitol Hill Day comes around each year, athletes and representatives from SO programs across the country descend on the Hill to talk about the importance of our programs.
Typically, it’s an in-person event allowing face-time with our senators and congressional representatives and/or their appointees. A side benefit is the chance to see Washington DC and all it has to offer.
In the age of the coronavirus the in-person aspect of Capitol Hill Day for Special Olympics had to be suspended for 2021 but thanks to Zoom call technology… mission accomplished
The team representing the athletes of SONH consisted of long-time athlete Charlie Helfrich of Henniker along with his mom Anne Helfrich, SONH President and CEO Mary Conroy, SONH Board Chair Kelley Gelinas who is also the grandmother of an SONH athlete, Board Chair-Elect and Charlie’s Unified Sports partner Eric Tinker, and Kelli Seely who is the Chief Communications, Marketing and Development Officer for Special Olympics International.
Charlie Helfrich opened each meeting talking about his 28-year history with Special Olympics New Hampshire and how the past year has greatly differed from all the rest. Helfrich was open and honest about his feelings when the Covid shutdown came in March 2020.
First came the loss of Basketball and area games. Charlie started to worry about the fate of Summer Games at UNH. “Summer Games did get cancelled and there was no training or practices. Then there was no Law Enforcement Torch Run. Everything I looked forward to was gone. I missed my coaches, training, fun, and friends. Life was so different and quiet” he says.
The social aspects of Special Olympics events have always been important, but the loss of those social activities reaches critical mass during a pandemic. During the Hill meetings Anne Helfrich noted that “Isolation is a word we’ve heard a lot this year. For Charlie, the fear of isolation was devastating.” She continued “His nickname is Mr. Social. Special Olympics has provided a safe supportive social environment to him since he was a young child.”
The two of them went on to discuss various aspects of the past year and how SONH efforts and initiatives like the Granite State Restart have had a positive impact on their lives and the lives of many in the SONH family.
Kelley Gelinas talked about being the grandparent of an athlete and her tenure as a volunteer for SONH leading to her current status as Board Chair. Incoming chair Eric Tinker talked about his involvement with the SONH community and his participation with Charlie Helfrich.
Federal Funding for Special Olympics makes an impact on all state programs and these meetings are a key to keeping and expanding that funding. Mary Conroy discussed Special Olympics New Hampshire specifically and made the case to continue funding programs for Special Olympics on the national level. The meetings were conducted with representatives of the entire NH state delegation including Kenzie Marshall and Brittany Matthews of Senator Maggie Hassan’s office, Jonathan Gonin of Representative Annie Kuster’s office, Asha Samuel who works for Representative Chris Pappas and Peter Fise and Erica Anhalt of Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s staff.