Building inclusive communities is the cornerstone of what Special Olympics is all about. This spirit of generosity, inclusion and volunteerism helps to connect the community as a whole. The work of Mike Allard and his son Ben is a perfect example of how creating an inclusive community raises awareness and brings people together. This weekend, March 4-5, 2017, the greater Marlborough region will host two notable events – on Saturday, the second annual Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge for Special Olympics will take place at the Yawkey Sports Training Center in Marlborough followed up by Sunday’s Juniors/Player Development Basketball Tournament hosted by St. Marks School and the Fay School in Southborough. In the spirit of bringing things full circle and creating an inclusive community the Allard’s will be a part of both exciting events.
Special Olympics has been a part of the Allard family for the past ten years. Ben has been a Special Olympics Massachusetts athlete since he was eight years old and now competes in basketball and swimming with a local team. Mike, his dad, not only cheers for him on the sidelines, but is also his basketball coach. But their involvement doesn’t end there. To support this organization which is so near and dear to their hearts they participate in fundraising events and Mike has even been active in getting his employer, Avidia Bank more involved. This coming weekend will be all about Special Olympics for both Allard’s and Avidia Bank.
This Sunday, March 5th, Ben and Coach Mike will take to the court for the annual State Winter Games. The Juniors/ Player Development portion of the Games will see the first gold medalists in the annual state-level tournament that takes place in Greater Worcester and Southborough. When talking about the basketball event, Mike points out that those participating in the Polar Plunge and members of the community should stop by and see how “the funds raised through events like the Plunge help create all of this (the tournament). You might be one person but when you combine your efforts with the many people who give their time and effort, we can all make things happen.” The event is one of the Unified Sports® opportunities offered by Special Olympics Massachusetts. Unified sports brings athletes with and without intellectual disabilities together to compete on the same team, on the same court, at the same time. This inclusive model works to build bridges between groups of people who might never have met. Allard remarks that one of the Unified Partners on his team who does not have a disability, “doesn’t want to miss a week or practice. His mom tells me how much it has changed him.” Participating in sports also has a profound impact on athletes with intellectual disabilities. “I’ve heard all too often from parents that my kid is lonely or doesn’t have many friends outside of school. Special Olympics gives them a place to feel part of something. You can’t put a price on that,” shares Allard.
Events like this would not be possible without financial support. That’s where the Allard’s have stepped up once again. For the past two years Mike Allard and Avidia Bank, for which he is Senior VP of Marketing, have become more connected to Special Olympics Massachusetts. According to Allard, the bank made annual donations for about the past ten years. They became more involved when Allard was tapped to join the leadership committee for the Massachusetts Tournament of Champions, a state-level event held yearly in August that relocated in 2016 to greater Marlborough. Through this connection Avidia has developed a deeper relationship to the organization and the athletes it serves. As Allard puts it, once Avidia began “getting our hands dirty, volunteering at events, and I joined the leadership committee, we started seeing these connections forming at the bank.” He adds that being involved “gets people to share their story. It brings the disability discussion out into the open. Now when we see each other in the office it’s not just ‘how was your weekend’, we are also talking about Special Olympics because people know each other’s stories.”
Sharing stories around the Avidia Bank water cooler, after this weekend, will be all about dipping into the ice cold waters at the second annual Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) Polar Plunge this Saturday, March 4 at the Yawkey Sports Training Center in Marlborough, headquarters for Special Olympics Massachusetts. In its second year, the Marlborough Plunge has already exceeded last year’s fundraising total and is quickly approaching the 2017 goal of $10,000 thanks to a number of returning teams and new participants. Funds raised by the 10-person Avidia Bank plunge team and other groups will help provide athletic programming for individuals with intellectual disabilities right here in the metro west area, including the basketball tournament on Sunday where more than 30 teams are participating.
Although this will be a busy weekend for the Allard family it’s all worth it. Through the Allard’s efforts they show by example, that bringing people together to create inclusive communities we can transforming lives through the joy of sport at the local level, every day, with just one person’s initiative.