KAILUA-KONA >> With spectators watching, Hawaii Police Department officers took over a scaffold and patrolled the entrance area of the Kailua-Kona Walmart Thursday. They waved at motorists and hollered to passersby, making their presence and purpose there known.
While this wasn’t a crime scene or a stakeout, these police officers were on the lookout for something vital to Special Olympics West Hawaii: donations.
For more than a decade, the Hawaii Police Department has participated in Cop on Top, an annual national fundraising event for Special Olympics, a nonprofit that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
For three days, between 15 and 20 off-duty police officers from the Kona District will camped out at the Henry Street store to raise awareness and money specifically for Special Olympics West Hawaii, which serves more than 50 athletes from Kohala to Ka’u. Officers began their three-day scaffold vigil Thursday, in an attempt to reach or beat this year’s $15,000 fundraising goal.
Juvenile Aid Section Detective Renee Morinaka has served as a liaison between the Police Department and Special Olympics West Hawaii for four years. Besides Cop on Top, the Police Department helps with Fueling Dreams and the Torch Run.
Morinaka said her co-workers enjoy participating in such events because they offer great opportunities to form partnerships in the community, give back and help others. The police officers at Cop on Top are volunteering their time while in between shifts and on their days off, she added.
Morinaka has volunteered with Special Olympics West Hawaii for 22 years and has seen what the organization has done for her community. She described the athletes as “unconditional in every sense” and said “it’s so fulfilling seeing them compete.”
Special Olympics West Hawaii Area Director Denise Lindsey expressed gratitude for the ongoing support from the Police Department “superheroes” and Walmart, whose stores throughout Hawaii are hosting Cop on Top events. She also thanked Kailua-Kona store manager John Yates III for being “so phenomenal and helping any way he can.”
Cop on Top is Special Olympics West Hawaii’s biggest fundraiser. The organization relies solely on donations to keep its program going. All of the money raised over the three days stays in West Hawaii to pay for uniforms, equipment, transportation, competition, coach training and leadership opportunities for the athletes, Lindsey said.
She added, it’s because of the efforts of volunteers and the generosity of the Big Island community that Special Olympics West Hawaii is able to offer such a high quality program.
Special Olympics West Hawaii offers eight sports for its athletes, ages 11 to 55. Throughout the season, athletes attend twice-weekly practices, conducted by trained and certified coaches. In addition to area and regional competitions, they also travel off-island to three state tournaments each year. No fees are ever charged to the athletes, said Nikki Cleintuar, Special Olympics West Hawaii volunteer.
Special Olympics West Hawaii’s program focuses on the whole person, providing an environment wherein each athlete has opportunities to discover personal abilities and strengths that go beyond sports. Through leadership programs, technology training, volunteering opportunities, social events and service projects, participants experience personal growth, friendship and a true sense of belongs as a valued, respected and contributing community member. The program also helps keep the athletes physically active and healthy, which is important especially when considering the increasing prevalence of obesity, Lindsey said.
Kona resident Mary Donager has volunteered with Special Olympics since her son, Ray Donager, joined as an athlete at age 8 on the mainland. Ray, now 47, has participated in every sport offered, but his favorite is powerlifting.
A talented powerlifter, Ray was one of eight Hawaii athletes who competed in the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Shanghai. There, he won three gold medals and a bronze. But winning is not why Ray likes powerlifting or Special Olympics. “I like it because of friends,” he said.
Mary said Special Olympics is worthwhile because it helps all people discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success, through the power of sports. She also likes how it has taught her son life lessons that can be applied on and off the field, as well as provided him opportunities to help others and engage with the community in meaningful ways.
Those who couldn’t attend Cop on Top and want to make a donation to Special Olympics West Hawaii can do so by sending a check to P.O. Box 390358, Keauhou, HI 96739. For more information, call Lindsey at 345-0433 or visit specialolympicshawaii.org.