Enriching Lives: A New Chapter for Special Olympics in Clovis

Michael Ramirez flexes for the camera as attendees gather for the ribbon cutting ceremony. (Photo Steven Sandage, Clovis Roundup)

May 21, 2024 – Special Olympics Northern California (SONC) marked a significant milestone in its mission to enrich the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities. On a warm Tuesday morning, an enthusiastic crowd gathered at 1446 Tollhouse Road to celebrate the grand opening of the Central Valley office. The event, highlighted by a ribbon-cutting ceremony, was a testament to the organization’s enduring commitment to the region.

The ceremony began at 11 a.m. with light refreshments, including cookies adorned with the Special Olympics logo and free coffee courtesy of Starbucks. Attendees also received tumblers and water bottles branded with the Special Olympics Northern California insignia.

Cathy Domanski, Chief Development Officer for Special Olympics Northern California, spoke about the significance of the new office. “This office will serve nine counties. We have served this region for more than 30 years, but the opening of this office signifies a lasting commitment to serve more athletes,” she emphasized, her voice resonating with pride and hope.

Matt Cohen, the Chief Program Officer, echoed Cathy’s sentiments. “It’s great to see everyone out here,” he said, addressing the crowd. “It’s a well-rounded program that an athlete can engage in 365 days a year. Our goal is to grow our athlete base and provide more opportunities for our athletes to thrive.”

The highlight of the event was undoubtedly the speech by Haley Ford, the newest member of the SONC Board of Directors. Haley, an athlete who joined Special Olympics at the age of 12, captivated the audience with her authenticity and engaging stories. “It’s more of a family than a program,” she reflected on her journey. “I started when I was 12 and I felt out of place because no one else I knew was autistic. I found people who are like me, and through the years, they’ve become my family whether they’re on my team or not.” Her words underscored the deep sense of belonging and community that SONC fosters among its participants.

The ceremony culminated with Haley cutting the ribbon, surrounded by cheers and applause. As the ribbon was cut, the crowd was invited to tour the new office. Inside, an Olympic torch was on display, drawing the attention of many, including Tracey Dunning and her daughter Tyra, who were seen admiring it with the Chief of Police.

In a post-event interview, Haley spoke about the responsibilities of being a board member. “When I got the email just for getting interviewed, I was so nervous. I thought I was gonna puke,” she confessed with a grin. “The more I interacted with the others, the more I realized why be nervous when we’re all the same. We all want to support Special Olympics, and it made me feel comfortable and like I belonged.”

She couldn’t contain her enthusiasm as she talked about her favorite sports, track and soccer. “I absolutely love running, especially sprints,” she said, her eyes lighting up. “When it comes to soccer, I like being a defender; I just like it—the running, the banter, doing the weird tricks. Or trying to do them and failing a little bit,” she added with a laugh.

She capped off the interview by explaining why she embraces public speaking situations so eagerly, “I love talking to people to get the message out there,” she said earnestly. “We’re different, but we’re normal at the same time.”

 Amidst the lively crowd, Haley posed for photos with eager attendees, while Molly Marquez, Director of Development and Law Enforcement Torch Run, reflected proudly on her role. “It’s the best job ever. I absolutely love it,” she exclaimed.

 The opening of the new Central Valley office marks a new chapter for Special Olympics Northern California, promising expanded opportunities and a deeper connection with the community. As attendees left with a sense of inspiration and unity, it was clear that the impact of this day would resonate far beyond Clovis.