May 30, 2024

Special Olympics Summer Games: Will you play a part?

Kaiser Permanente employee Carrie Zaragoza volunteers for Special Olympics Southern California. She hopes you’ll get involved, too — as a volunteer or fan.

Zaragoza (far right) coaches a Special Olympics team that her son Christopher (far left) is on. Her daughter and husband (middle) are team volunteers.

Becoming a coach for Special Olympics Southern California has been a deeply personal and highly rewarding experience for Carrie Zaragoza, a project manager at Kaiser Permanente.

Special Olympics is a sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities.

In 2018, Zaragoza’s son, Christopher, who has autism, joined the Pasadena Ducks, a Special Olympics team in the Los Angeles area.

Inspired by her son’s courage, she stepped up as a team volunteer. Today, she proudly wears the hat of team coach.

Zaragoza’s husband and daughter also volunteer, making Special Olympics Southern California a family affair. Zaragoza encourages others to get involved — as fans, volunteers, or coaches.

“With the stigma still out there, it’s difficult to find many spaces for individuals with intellectual disabilities to truly shine,” Zaragoza said. “Being able to play sports has helped Christopher build up his confidence, strengthen his social skills, and experience a sense of belonging.”

Acceptance through sports

The Pasadena Ducks are competing at Summer Games in basketball, swimming, and bocce. The Summer Games will be held June 8 and 9, 2024, in Long Beach, California.

At the annual championships, 1,087 athletes in Southern California will compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals in 5 sporting events. More than 5,000 volunteers and spectators are expected to participate in the excitement.

Zaragoza won’t be the only person from Kaiser Permanente in attendance. More than 100 of our dedicated employees and physicians will join her as “Fans in the Stands” and medical and event volunteers, showcasing our collective commitment to community involvement and support for Special Olympics Southern California.

As the official health partner of Special Olympics Southern California, Kaiser Permanente is committed to promoting acceptance through sports. Our employees and physicians support Special Olympics Southern California events as volunteers, medical support staff, and advocates for the inclusion and understanding of people with intellectual disabilities.

Essential role of volunteers

“There are countless ways to get involved with Special Olympics Southern California, and there is so much to learn from the athletes as well,” said Margie Harrier, senior vice president and area manager of Kaiser Permanente’s South Bay service area and board member for Special Olympics Southern California. “Our physicians and employees enthusiastically show up ready to volunteer and learn.”

Volunteers are vital to Special Olympics — and they find their work rewarding.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers,” said Jennifer Rebollo, assistant vice president of Volunteer Services for Special Olympics Southern California. “We hear stories every day from volunteers who have shared how thankful they are for the experience and getting to know our athletes.”

As Christopher prepared for the Summer Games, he also expressed his appreciation.

“Special Olympics is important to me because I can meet other people and have fun. I think my teammates feel the same,” Christopher said. “Special Olympics is somewhere we can all belong and be accepted because we are special.”

We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers. We hear stories every day from volunteers who have shared how thankful they are for the experience and getting to know our athletes.

How to get involved

Whether you’re interested in cheering on Christopher and the Pasadena Ducks during the Summer Games or volunteering at a later time, Special Olympics Southern California offers plenty of opportunities.

We invite you to join us in celebrating the athletes’ achievements and making every Special Olympics event a success.