Come on Down, Cause Leader Michele Henson: You Just Won a New Car!
Posted Jun 15, 2012 by Alejandro De La Cruz
The 100 Cars For Good Challenge has given 500 nonprofits the opportunity to win a brand new car for their organizations. In April, Toyota announced that each day for 100 days, online voters will choose one nonprofit (from five choices) to take home a new set of wheels. One of the participating nonprofits was Special Olympics Illinois — an organization providing year-round sports training to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Cause leader Michele Henson spoke to us about Special Olympics, Illinois (SOI) and how they used Causes to run their 100 Cars For Good campaign and win a brand new Toyota!
In April, Michele and her coworker Jeremy Davidson launched a campaign on Causes asking people to pledge to vote for their 100 Cars for Good team. More than 450 people took the pledge… and it worked! The victory means Special Olympics Illinois will have another vehicle to dedicate to their athletes. Until their victory, two staffers had to share one car to travel throughout the entire state of Illinois to attend seminars, workshops, and speaking engagements, which made coordination difficult. Michele told us, “Right now we have two staff members that cover the entire state of Illinois. We have people teaching teachers and family members [about Special Olympics Illinois.] The staffers are on the road nearly every other day of the year. Having the [new car] dedicated to them will be really beneficial.” Specifically, Michele told us the new wheels will help their younger athletes — those 2 to 7 years old — attend fun events.
Michele has been with SOI for 13 years and has worked tirelessly to help special needs athletes find self-confidence and community. Over the years, she’s worn a variety of hats. “I’m a staff member, but also a volunteer, and I compete on a team with some athletes. We have a program called unified sports that allows special Olympics athletes and non-impaired athletes to compete together on the same team, and I do that.” This belief in the power of bringing special needs athletes together with non-disabled athletes is what inspires Michele to help. “We have a young athletes program and it is a great program for inclusion. If you think about it, little children with disabilities and without disabilities get together and play in schools, playgrounds, and daycare centers, and they get to know each other as kids and not as ‘that other person in that other classroom.’ It becomes normal for them to know someone who has a disability or doesn’t have one.”
Throughout her time with SOI, Michele has seen great success. She shared one her favorite stories with us about a young participant who gained tremendous self-confidence from one of SOI’s non sports-oriented programs. “A lot of what we do is seeing [athletes] gaining success and self-esteem. We have a program called Global Messengers. It’s a program where we take some of our special Olympics athletes and teach them to give speeches. One of my strongest memories involved a young athlete named Susie. She really didn’t speak very much publicly or even privately to people. She came through the program and those of us who were teaching it that year were a little concerned about her success. On the day of speaking, she went up there, and had her speech written out, and she rocked the room. That’s not really a sports angle we do, but it’s the benefits of the program that flow into other parts of our athletes’ lives.” It’s that adaptability, and powerful influence, that makes this victory even more sweet. Congratulations to Michele and her team!
Visit the 100 Cars For Good Causes action page to learn more about the challenge.