Special Olympics Florida Partners with Special Olympics Slovakia to Support Displaced Ukrainian Athletes

CLERMONT, Fla., June 21, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Special Olympics Florida announced this week it is helping to support a sports club serving Ukrainian refugees now living in Slovakia.

Called Special Stars, the club is designed to support people with intellectual disabilities (ID) who have fled the war in Ukraine. It is also open to Special Olympics Unified partners – people without intellectual disabilities who train and compete alongside Special Olympics athletes.

Special Olympics Florida donated financial and programmatic support to Special Olympics Slovakia to get the team up and running. Special Olympics programs from several other states then followed suit. The money helps pay for uniforms, sports training and equipment, a training facility, use of a swimming pool and other operating costs.

“Special Stars in Slovakia is also brought to you by Special Olympics Florida,” said David Evangelista, Regional President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia. “They were the first to say, ‘We can do something, and we should do something.’”

Special Stars is part of a broader initiative known as Special Olympics Unified with Refugees. It was created by Special Olympics International in 2016 to respond to the needs of refugee youth of all abilities, in partnership with the United Nations Refugee Agency and Lions Club International Foundation.

Unified with Refugees seeks to support refugees with and without intellectual disabilities through the power of the Special Olympics Unified platform. Unified with Refugees has created programs for Special Olympics athletes now living in Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Evangelista said when Special Olympics Florida officials learned colleagues in Slovakia were serving a wave of Ukrainian refugees, they wanted to do something to help. They wanted refugees with intellectual disabilities to know “they were not alone.”

Special Olympics Florida committed to create Special Stars. Other Special Olympics state programs then made similar contributions. Special Stars is now serving more than 20 Ukrainian refugees, and that number is growing.

“No one was ready for such a horrible situation. But it happened,” said Eva Gazova, National Director of Special Olympics Slovakia. “Refugees needed our help immediately, and we offered a helping hand to mothers with children with ID. With the support of Special Olympics Florida, we can serve more refugee families and, hopefully, help them smile again. We are so grateful to our friends at Special Olympics Florida.”

Special Olympics Florida President and CEO Sherry Wheelock said her organization and its board members felt it was important to help the displaced Ukrainian athletes. People with intellectual disabilities are among the most marginalized members of society, she said, and that problem is only exacerbated for refugees with ID.

“Those athletes and their families are facing unimaginable challenges,” said Wheelock. “First, they had to escape the violence of the war, and now they have to make a new life in a new community. We want to support them as best we can, and show them that Special Olympics Florida is thinking about them.”

About Special Olympics Florida
Now celebrating its 50th Anniversary, Special Olympics Florida provides year-round sports training and competition, crucial health services, and life-changing leadership programs to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. It serves nearly 60,000 Special Olympics athletes annually, at no cost to athletes or their families. To learn more, visit www.specialolympicsflorida.org.

Media Contact:
Monica McShaffrey
Uproar PR for Special Olympics Florida

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at https://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/e95df604-e55f-4c8a-8d2a-01264cdea88d

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