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Athletes deserve special funding

bill stevens
BILL STEVENS
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By BILL STEVENS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 1, 2002


Val Lundin and Judy Brunner have spent most of the past 20 years helping mentally retarded children develop their physical skills and compete in the Special Olympics. Three years ago, Brunner's efforts earned her the Florida Special Olympics' highest honor -- induction into the Hall of Fame.

Now it's Lundin's turn. At the organization's annual banquet next month in Orlando, she will join the elite list that started in 1990 and has grown to 30.

"It says a lot about your county," offered Nancy Sawyer, senior vice president of programs for Florida Special Olympics, which has headquarters in Clermont. "Pasco has done a great job with the young athletes, and Val and Judy have been terrific."

Lundin coordinates the west side program out of Cotee River Elementary School, while Brunner handles the east side from Woodlands Elementary. They coordinate more than 600 athletes, 75 coaches and 500 volunteers. And while they are dedicated, successful teachers, they feel at a disadvantage when it comes to one of the most important elements of Special Olympics -- fundraising.

They are tireless for the kids. They need help with the money.

Which is how a bunch of folks came to meet last week at the school district headquarters in Land O'Lakes. Lundin, Brunner and Exceptional Student Education supervisor Elizabeth Cooper explained that the projected revenue for this year's Special Olympics budget falls about $12,000 short of the $84,391 needed to break even.

Part of that is a good reason: More athletes are qualifying for statewide games and so it costs more to transport, lodge and feed them. It's more expensive to be successful.

Families of Special Olympics athletes are never asked to contribute, and thousands of dollars are necessary for uniforms, transportation and other items such as substitute teachers to cover for those who chaperone during the trips out of town.

The biggest contributor, by far, is the School Board, which budgets $50,893 a year. There is no plan now to cut that back, but Sawyer at the state Special Olympics office fears that may happen more and more around the state.

"We look around and get nervous," she said. "There are budget shortfalls all over the state -- cutbacks in transportation and subs and everything else. We have to look to the community for help. It has to be a partnership."

Raising money for something so noble as Special Olympics shouldn't be a problem in counties as large as Pasco -- although we are mainly a county of satellite offices and small businesses. The same big companies get tapped for contributions for every good cause.

So it helps to get creative. That's where Chip Wichmanowski comes in. As executive director of the Pasco Education Foundation Inc., he has become an authority on philanthropy and corporate sponsorships. When he sees a video of children tossing a softball at a Special Olympics competition, he imagines the event being brought to you by McDonald's or Home Depot or . . . you get the idea. Wichmanowski agreed last week to gather the forces and help guide the Special Olympics coordinators toward more contributions.

The big money-raiser each year is a golf tournament, which recently earned $6,500. Wichmanowski put on a golf tourney for the foundation this year that raised $22,000. "We simply sold education," he said. "This community reacts to the good causes. You just have to ask them."

If you don't want to wait to be asked, you can contact Brunner at (813) 794-6476 or Lundin at (727) 774-3062.

-- Pasco Times Editor Bill Stevens can be reached at (727) 869-6250 or by e-mail at stevens@sptimes.com.

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