The Little North Pole never stops, and on Monday, December 21, there was a very special visit. Joe Mure invited the St. Camillus Special Olympic athletes for their very own drive-by visit with Santa Claus, who had toys aplenty to share for a bright end to a difficult year.
Every Monday night, the St. Camillus Special Olympic athletes get together to share some laughs, play some games and have some fun in the gym. Since March, that has looked a little different as program director Joe Featherston and coaches/volunteers including Patrick Trainor, Theresa Trainor and Kerry Hynes have brought the fun to Zoom to continue that connection that the athletes look forward to every week. Although a different approach, Featherson says the Zoom meets have had some advantages. “Ray, Theresa and I ask them some questions and the positive is that they have changed from some being very quiet and reluctant to talk and now they’re outgoing and telling stories of their families, their weekends and showing off their artwork and drawings and paintings and what they’ve eaten for dinner or cooked,” Featherston said. “They’ve really become more talkative and have come out of their shell, which is a tremendous positive.”
However, there are also downsides. “Obviously the drawback is that we’ve been meeting for, I think 26 years every Monday night at St. Camillus, and many of them have been with us for over 20 years so it’s been a tremendous part of their life that has been disrupted. This is their social group and they look forward to Monday nights being with their friends, doing their recreation and athletic activities and laughing and that they’re missing,” Featherston said. This has also been difficult for those who run the program. “They’re part of your family and not being able to hug them and play with them, you really miss it. It’s hard,” Featherston added. This year was made even harder as they lost one of their own. In September, Richie Connor, a longtime special athlete died unexpectedly.
However, there are lessons to learn from the athletes, as they have a knack for seeing the best in everything. “When we asked them last week, what would you like for Christmas, instead of wanting material things, they wanted peace in the world and for Covid to end so they can get back to their friends in St. Camillus,” Featherston said.
On Monday, although set up a bit differently this year, they had a little bit of normalcy with their annual visit to the Little North Pole. Faces lit up with smiles as the special athletes got to drive or stop by the home to meet Santa and receive a gift.
“We have our own special night every year. We talk about it for weeks to get them pumped up and after Joe puts on the big affair, to put another event on for our special Olympic athletes and for Santa to come up again, means a tremendous amount to them,” Featherston said. But it’s all worth it. “It’s our favorite night of the year,” Joe Mure’s fiancé, Jodi Tucci said.
Even while getting a special night for themselves, the athletes are always thinking of others. “The St. Camillus Special Olympic athletes are so loving and giving and they know what life is really all about. Life is about friendships and family. It’s not worrying about the little stuff, not worrying about the little things, it’s about sharing companionship with other people,” Featherston said.
That was exemplified throughout the night as when one athlete, Denise Kiernan, was asked about the toy she received, she happily replied, “I’m going to give it to my niece for Christmas. She’s seven!”
Photos by Katie McFadden, Ray Otton and John Sluyk.
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