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John West Award

The John West Award is presented annually to honor volunteers’ accomplishments within SOSC, as well as their hard work and dedication to help Special Olympics athletes succeed and reach their goals.


2018 John West Memorial Award Winner

Jeannette Skinner

Years Active: 48+

Volunteer Role:
Western San Bernardino Area Director, Coach, and Trainer; World Games and National Games Coach; Competition Director: Floor Hockey, Bowling, and Spring Games

Jeannette has been a dedicated volunteer for over 45 years and has held many roles within the organization. She has lead with dedication and heart always putting our athletes first. Jeannette is dependable and a wealth of knowledge and experience. She is always willing to assist at any Area or Regional event even driving to Big Bear to support the Polar Plunge. Jeannette is a mentor for staff, coaches and athletes.

Thank you, Jeannette, for your dedication to our athletes!

Harahan Award

Since 1999, through funding provided by the Simmons-Balser Foundation, Special Olympics Southern California (SOSC) has been able to honor the accomplishments of outstanding adult volunteers from all over our SOSC Chapter. The Michael W. Harahan Award is presented to volunteers with exceptional dedication and performance in their volunteer role(s).

Congratulations to our individual 2018 Harahan Award winner & recipients! We appreciate all you do for our athletes and our movement!


2018 Chapter Harahan Award Winner

Russ Evans

Years Active: 26+

Volunteer Roles:
Pomona Valley Area Director

Russ has done a tremendous job of growing the Pomona Valley Area. He has increased the number of athletes, added floor hockey and has made significant increases in revenue for this area. His ability to recruit and retain volunteers speaks to who he is as a leader for this area. Russ is not only a strong advocate for his son Michael, but for all 32,000 + SOSC athletes. You would be hard-pressed to find another volunteer who has dedicated as much time, resources, and passion that Russ has towards Special Olympics. Russ is the epitome of what a volunteer leader is. He is extremely humble and never asks for any kind of recognition for everything that he has done. Furthermore, Russ goes above and beyond to celebrate his athletes with a New Year's celebration every year.

Russ has hosted over 500 athletes and volunteers at his 2017 Pomona Area Competition (Bocce and Track). He did a fantastic job of engaging the local community to support this competition by inviting law enforcement to participate in the opening ceremony and by awarding medals, and additionally by using key volunteers to fill vital GMT roles.

Additionally, he has organized a golf tournament with his community group (Eagles) to raise awareness and support for Pomona Valley athletes for 26 years!

Thank you, Russ, we appreciate you!

2018 Harahan Award Recipients

Alissa Slater

Years Active: 8

Volunteer Role: Head Coach: Swimming, Basketball, Golf, Soccer, and Bowling; Unified Sports Coach Certificate

During a transitional year amongst the volunteer leaders in the Pasadena Area, Alissa stepped up to keep all five (5) of the Pasadena programs afloat. Even though she has an incredible son, Gunnar, who is one of her athletes, she treats all of the athletes like family. She has cultivated this type of environment for the athletes throughout the entire Pasadena Area. If you've seen a personalized towel or gym bag that Pasadena athletes are sporting, then you've seen one of the many ways that Alissa like to give to her athletes.

In addition to coaching all five of the sports that the Pasadena Area participates in, Alissa goes above and beyond to cultivate a sense of family amongst all the teams. One simple but perfect idea she had was to unify all the Pasadena sports teams under one team name - Ducks. The athletes enjoy knowing all of their friends are Ducks! Additionally, Alissa makes sure that she involves the athlete's families as much as possible. Another fun way that promotes inclusion through family is that Alissa creates personal autograph and photo books at the end of each year. The athletes can connect and reflect with their coaches, families, and athletes from all delegations by having the athlete sign their books (like a yearbook).

Lastly, Alissa believes in the spirits of every athlete and likes to encourage them to be their best and affirm them when they beat their personal bests. Thus, she creates a special certificate acknowledging and affirming those accomplishments. We thank Alissa for all of her hard work and dedication!

Brian Erickson

Years Active: 10

Volunteer Roles:
LASGV Head Coach; Global Messengers; SOSC Board of Directors; Board Development Committee Chair, Plane Pull Committee; 2015 World Games Employee

Brian was awarded because of his continued dedication to our movement. From his board member duties, to sitting on different event committees, coaching our athletes, and mentoring several of us in the Development Department, his can-do attitude and enthusiastic demeanor motivates us all to do better. In short, Brian “walks his talk”.

One of Brian's most notable contributions is from 2016 when he offered to meet with the Development staff on a “one-on-one basis” where he provided a sales training session called “Presentations that lead to Partners”. The skills he passed on to us have been the foundation for several presentations that have led to partnerships since then. The tacit knowledge he has passed on to our staff will continue to help our organization thrive for years to come. Brian has also been instrumental in securing corporate sponsorships and identifying new partnerships. His willingness to partner with Global Messengers at corporate presentations has resulted in not only increased employee awareness, but sponsor support. We are extremely grateful for Brian's enthusiasm towards our movement.

Donna Eschen

Years Active: 4

Volunteer Roles:
Third Party Fundraising Community Partner

Donna is clearly an outstanding volunteer, professional, mentor, and role model for Special Olympics. Donna is one of our Northern Santa Barbra County third-party fundraiser leaders. Donna hosts an annual mahjong tournament to kick off our calendar year every January. Through her tireless efforts, she manages to host this event all on her own with minimal assistance. The Santa Maria Mahjong tournament is the largest of its kind in the Central Coast area. 2019 will be her fourth annual tournament in support of local Special Olympics programming and every year she manages to increase revenue. Furthermore, Donna has a genuine interest for our local Special Olympics athletes and plans to volunteer/fundraise for our program for the years to come. Donna hosts a couple of mahjong tournaments a year for other fundraising ventures as well. Her love and commitment to Special Olympics runs deep as she also contributes a portion of those earning to our Special Olympics Northern Santa Barbara County.

Because of these efforts, Donna has gained the respect of the community, her fellow peers, and also the respect and gratitude of the Special Olympics community and athletes. We appreciate her energy and leadership.

Grace Chase

Years Active: 10+

Volunteer Roles:
Regional Spring Games Founder, GMT

In 2008, Grace Chase met with Santa Clarita & Tri-Valley Regional Director Laura Mayo about hosting a track meet for Special Olympics at Crescenta Valley High School. Her only request was that athletes from the Glendale area start their own Special Olympics team and participate. The following year, with the support of the local non-profit CV CAN and local volunteers, 100 Special Olympics athletes from Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita, Tri-Valley and 8 Glendale athletes were part of the CV CAN Games that would eventually grow into Special Olympics Tri-Valley Regional Spring Games, which hosts 350 athletes in basketball, athletics and bocce each April. The event launched the beginning of the Special Olympics in 2010 and now the Glendale Local Program boasts one of the fastest growing areas in Southern California with athletics, basketball, bocce, flag football, soccer, Young Athletes programs, a Unified Champion School District and a Regional Soccer Competition.

Grace led a passionate group of volunteers to host the annual event until 2012 when family and grandkid duties demanded more of her time. In the years since, Grace has gotten her family and friends involved in creating goody bags for each athlete competing in the Tri-Valley Regional Spring Games – that is 350 bags filled with goodies and good luck cards made by local elementary school students and assembled by her children and grandchildren.

Motivated by her adoration for her own sister who has intellectual disabilities, Grace has created a special place in the community where athletes from all over Southern California are celebrated and loved when they enter the gates at Crescenta Valley High School. These efforts have opened the door to acceptance of individuals with intellectual disabilities in all corners of the community. We are so appreciative of Grace's creativity and dedication.

Janine Williams

Years Active: 8

Volunteer Role:
Head Coach: Athletics, Floor Hockey

Janine has been a dedicated volunteer to our program since March 2010. Janine began as a volunteer in Athletics, as that was her sport in years past, and then took over when a head coach was hospitalized. She is very good with the athletes and is extremely dedicated to our program. Having children attend Claremont High, she was beneficial in securing the use of their track for our program, which is a big step up from where we used to train. With a son interested in Ice Hockey, she has taken on the role of a Floor Hockey Coach. She assisted in the development of a Floor Hockey team over the past few years; this year will most likely be the best group of athletes we have had due to her work with developing the program. She recently attended Flag Football Training this past week to get the knowledge and understanding of the sport. Janine is extremely dedicated to our athletes and always willing to go above and beyond. We appreciate her so much!

Jay Glicksman

Years Active: 28

Volunteer Roles: Softball Head Coach; Floor Hockey, Athletics, Basketball, Volleyball Coach; Regional Leadership Council; GMT, San Diego; GMT Chapter

Jay Glicksman is what you might call a “lifer” at Special Olympics. Someone who started volunteering quite a while ago and who will likely never stop. Despite achieving lifer status, that is not the most impressive aspect defining Jay's involvement. What is most impressive is how deeply his volunteerism runs throughout each year. Jay began his time with Special Olympics in 1990 with the Northern California chapter and since then has been involved in no less than 17 sports, acting in numerous roles including: head coach, assistant coach, Unified Partner, Games Management Team (GMT) member, referee, sport specific trainer, referee trainer, Regional Leadership Council member and has served on several committees.

Jay came to San Diego in 2008 and right out of the gates began helping in our community program in 5 separate sports: floor hockey, athletics, basketball, softball and volleyball. Since then he has continued giving his time to Special Olympics in a variety of important volunteer positions. Over just this past year Jay has served on the San Diego Regional Leadership Council, led his softball team as the head coach, assisted at a basketball practice and as a GMT member he oversaw competition venues in athletics, basketball, bowling, floor hockey and golf.

In San Diego's school programs, Jay came on board early and has been a valuable asset in bringing a quality experience to the athletes at those events. He has served as a basketball referee for our Fall School Games and as a GMT member in athletics and individual skills for several Spring School Games.

At the Chapter level, you will find Jay serving on the GMT in athletics at Summer Games and volleyball at Fall Games. His years of experience at the local, regional and chapter level bring a unique and valuable perspective to these events.

On the world stage, Jay has volunteered as a coach in North Carolina, Games Management at the Los Angeles Games and officiated for the World Winter Games in Toronto, Anchorage, and South Korea.

It is safe to assume, in fact I know, that I have missed numerous events and contributions Jay has been involved with, even just over the last year. This accounting has been merely a snapshot of Jay's involvement. It's clear that Jay is an important part of our programs just by the sheer number of things he's involved with, but what truly sets him apart from is his willingness to provide input, whether that's in support of an idea or as constructive criticism. He brings an even-tempered, positive attitude that focuses on the athlete's experience. We cannot thank Jay enough and are extremely proud to nominate him as the 2018 Harahan Award winner for San Diego County.

Jennifer Szczerbinski

Years Active: 8+

Volunteer Roles: Summer and Fall Games GOC Lead for Ceremonies, Merchandise Assistant; Documentation Team Lead, Writer, Stage Manager, Photographer, and Videographer

Jenni has volunteered with Special Olympics for over eight years. During that time, she has held multiple day-of roles and leadership positions. She has been a photographer and videographer, recruited volunteers, collected mission moments, worked booths and as a cashier, assisted with setup and clean up, been a stage manager, assisted with, wrote scripts, and much more. Along with day-of roles, she managed our Documentation Team volunteers for 2 years, including recruiting volunteers, developing shot sheets, coordinating with volunteers and staff, and being a day of resource. For the past 3 years, she has worked on the Summer Games and Fall Games GOC as the Ceremonies Lead. In that role, she has written the script, coordinated talent, recruited and managed volunteers, and been the stage manager. She always looks for ways to shine a spotlight on the athletes, whether it be through a skit, speaking role, or performance. One of her biggest achievement was shrinking the ceremony time to one hour by successfully shortening the Parade of Athletes without reducing athlete experience. Along with volunteering, she's fundraised for the Plane Pull and Polar Plunge, purchased live auction items, and donated in-kind auction items. Jenni is always willing to lend a hand and go out of her way for the athletes and mission.

Her passion for Special Olympics can be seen through her volunteering her time to write ‘Twas the Night Before Fall Games. This story was used for our Year-End Campaign and helped raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics. This story personifies her dedication to Special Olympics as she did it on her own, without prompting, as she an opportunity to grow our movement through a fun poem.

Jill Wall

Years Active: 27

Volunteer Roles: Southeast Los Angeles Area Director; Coach: Athletics, Golf; Circle of Champions; Team SOSC 1/2Marathon and 5K

Chances are if you meet someone from the City of Whittier, they will know Jill Wall. For 27 years, she has dedicated her life to Special Olympics to bring awareness, promote inclusion, and champion the spirit of Special Olympics athletes like her daughter, Sarah. From being a Coach, helping with the Torch Run and Tip-A-Cops, hosting sporting competitions with Special Olympics Los Angeles (SOLA) Lions Club, generating awareness with Circle of Champions, and raising funds through marathons, Jill simply does it all because she truly believes in Special Olympics with all her heart and gives 150% to everything.

In addition to the 300+ hours a year she devotes to Special Olympics, she has solicited and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout her years serving SOSC. Jill has also expanded the role of what a volunteer looks like to what you may call a super-volunteer. She started from volunteering at various events, and has now expanded to coaching, fundraising, and joining SOLA Lions.

One of Jill's coaching highlights is her work with an athlete who could barely walk when she first started Special Olympics. With Jill's support this athlete can now walk the 100M.

When Jill was speaking to potential new supporters for SOSC with Circle of Champions, she felt this was a perfect niche for her as she could authentically share her daughter's (Sarah) and her own Special Olympics story. This was a launching pad for her to continue this communication to be an ambassador of Special Olympics as she now shares their stories with families, communities, businesses, and anyone else that could potentially get involved with Special Olympics. We are so grateful for Jill's support!

Joanne Abate

Years Active: 11

Volunteer Roles:
Local Program Coordinator for Exceptional Adult Center; Head Coach: Bocce, Bowling

Joanne has made a measurable impact over the past 11 years as a passionate advocate for all Special Olympics athletes, especially the athletes from Exceptional Adult Center (EAC). Mrs. Abate stepped up in 2007 to keep Special Olympics going at EAC when their previous head coach retired in 2006. If Mrs. Abate had not stepped up the program would have folded. She has kept the program going and has made it a culture at the center.

Her volunteer activities are as varied as her skills, and they include: working with new and existing athletes to help train and develop them into champions; teaching them not only the sport specific skills but integrating social skills; and simply acting like a friend to those who are most in need. She has also directly and personally raised more funds for equipment, uniforms, and transportation. Her contribution to others becomes all the more impressive when you consider the many personal health challenges that she, herself, has endured over the years. She has truly inspired those around her to become more involved in the community, reach out to those who are not as privileged as ourselves, and share our talents with those around us in order to make a positive change in our community and our world.

Mrs. Abate is a true advocate for Special Olympics, and we greatly appreciate her dedication.

Karen & Richard Davis

Years Active: 47

Volunteer Roles:
Head Coach: Swimming; Swimming Clinician; GMT at Long Beach Swim Competition and SOSC Summer Games

Karen & Rich Davis started as Swim coaches, and have been running the Long Beach Swim Competition for several years. They are a large part of the Long Beach Area Swim program and always volunteer time to help at a Regional, Chapter, National and International level. In addition to coaching and running competitions, they will often serve as our Swimming clinicians for our LA/SGV Coaches Trainings. Karen & Rich have made a huge impact on swimming for all of Southern California Special Olympics. Additionally, Karen has run chapter level events, and Rich was an expert in GMS 5- even helping SOSC develop it's use for swim.

When overseeing our Chapter competition, Karen & Rich Davis had serval meetings in preparation for competition. During one of the meetings, Karen & Rich suggested using the Colorado timing system for timing at the swim events. This timing system helped the event run smoother and eliminated the chance of human error in timing. It also brought the event a more official look. Rich proceeded to have several meetings, many of them late-nights, in order to make this system work, and eventually it did! Karen was able to run all events with the Colorado timing system, which is how Chapter games are still run today. We appreciate their dedication and time towards our organization.

Linda Barker

Years Active: 20+

Volunteer Roles:
Head Coach: South Bay Torrance; GMS Volunteer: South Bay Torrance, South Bay Community

Linda Barker has been involved with Special Olympics for over 20 years. She is a coach in the South Bay Torrance program, works in group homes, and is a big advocate for the special needs community. In addition to coaching, Linda has had a leadership role within the South Bay Area by assisting two programs with GMS entry and attending area meetings; She is responsible for all Roster entry and Event entry in GMS for both South Bay Torrance and South Bay Community programs. Her work in overseeing this task saves hours for SOSC staff and helps those programs run smoother.

Linda has been coaching for over 20 years. As a key leader in the Region, Linda is one of three volunteers who oversee programs in GMS for the LASGV Region and is the only one to oversee multiple programs at once. We deeply appreciate her time!

Phil Duthie

Years Active: 30+

Volunteer Roles:
South Bay Torrance Local Program Coordinator & Head Coach

Phil is currently the local program coordinator for the South Bay Torrance program; he also serves as a head coach for soccer & basketball and is a coach for swimming. During his time with Special Olympics, he has also coached tennis, softball, bowling, and bocce. He volunteered as the South Bay Area Director for about 15-20 years, overseeing all Special Olympics programs within the South Bay Area. He is a passionate advocate for the special needs community and always puts the athlete first. Phil has served in many roles for the LA/SGV Region; throughout all the roles he has held, he has always put our athletes' best interest first! He has affected the lives of hundreds, possibly thousands, of athletes within the South Bay Community.

We are sad to see Phil leave our SOSC Community, but wish him the best in his retirement and out of state move! He will always be a part of the LASGV Region Family!

Rae Ann Knapp

Years Active: 4

Volunteer Roles:
Office Volunteer

Rae is the most dedicated office volunteer we have ever had! She helps with GMS entry, Raisers Edge entry, monitors athlete medicals, coaches training updates and notifications, thank-you letters for special events, filing, inventory control of uniforms and sports equipment, and much more.

When Rae began to volunteer in our office, our filing system was not only out of date, but out of the filing cabinet! There were stacks of files everywhere. Rae reorganized the files, brought all the paperwork up to date with both athlete medicals and coaches certifications. Since then, Rae has become proficient in GMS and attends to many of the mundane day-to-day details. She follows up with coaches to ensure they get their paperwork in to the office in a timely manner and reminds them of deadlines. Rae takes on aspects of preparing for tournaments, getting paperwork together, making copies, organizing supplies, and when she can, assists at the tournament site. Rae is like having a part time employee and we entrust her with everything we would an actual employee.

In addition to everything listed above, Rae has also gone out of her way to give rides to athletes and their parent to special events, making sure they are able to participate in these extra festivities. One small example is when an athlete wanted to attend our annual athlete dance – an exciting evening that is attended by over 100 athletes and their parents/caregivers. Rae jumped at the opportunity to give this athlete a ride to the dance, and a wonderful evening was had by all, including the athlete who otherwise would not have been able to attend. Rae is indeed a ray of sunshine for all of us here in Ventura County.

Ronald & Vita Russell

Years Active: 25

Volunteer Roles:
Head Coach SGV Athletics; Local Program Coordinator; Games Management Team

Ron and Vita Russell are Local Program Coordinators for the SGV Athletics Team. They are not only the head coaches, but oversee all administrative aspects. They are passionate volunteers who are always striving to grow their programs and allow any and every athlete to participate. They are model coaches, and key volunteers within the region. In addition to running their Athletics program, they often volunteer as GMT and run the track staging area for SGV School Games. During their off season, they assist with coaching bowling in the San Gabriel Valley Area. Most recently, Ron attended the coaches training for Flag Football and hopes to expand their already popular program by adding the sport.

Ronald and Vita are fabulous athletics coaches, and model Local Program Coordinators. On top of all that, they serve on the LA/SGV GMT and are passionate about improving their program while also growing the number of athletes they serve.

Samantha Sutter

Years Active: 20

Volunteer Roles:
Westside Area Head Coach: Athletics, Bowling, and Bocce; Certified Coach Flag Football

Samantha is the ultimate volunteer who dedicates so much time to Special Olympics. After being involved with other Special Olympics chapters during her college years and early professional life for 17 years, she immediately got involved with Special Olympics in Westside Area after her career brought her out West. Recently, the Bocce program was about to fold because there was no one that was able to keep it going, and Samantha took it upon herself to keep this program afloat. While continuing to coach Athletics and Bowling, she is helping to start the Flag Football program in Westside.

One of the challenges with the Westside program was that many of sports programs were centered around Santa Monica because of the wonderful partnership SOSC has with the city. Thus, Samantha has made it part of her mission to get more into the entire Westside community to increase awareness about Special Olympics programs since many did not know they existed. Because of her efforts, she has increased athlete awareness and participation in Westside by about 40% since she began volunteering in the Westside Area.

Despite a busy schedule working in television production, Samantha continuously takes on additional duties to expand the Westside program We are so grateful for her!

Steve Crook

Years Active: 5

Volunteer Roles:
Head Coach: Swimming, Tennis; 2015 World Games Tennis Coach; 2018 National Games Swimming Coach

Steve Crook has an unwavering support of Special Olympics, Antelope Valley. Mr. Crook has served in various capacities since he joined March 1, 2013. Unlike most of the volunteers in our competitive sports program, Mr. Crook does not have a relative in the program, but works every bit as hard for each athlete. Swimming and tennis are two sports Mr. Crook favors, spending countless hours training our athletes to be the best they can be.

Mr. Crook has always been ready to step up and take on any role necessary to help make the Special Olympics movement successful. Through his coaching, Steve has helped to make each athlete a better versions of themselves.

Bud Viard

Years Active: 5

Volunteer Roles:
Coach: Floor Hockey, Bocce, Bowling

Bud has become one of the key volunteers in the Santa Barbara region and our programs would not look the same without his involvement.

Bud immediately volunteered to be the liaison between the SBLBC and Special Olympics after our bocce team approached his facility, the Santa Barbara Lawn Bowls Club. He quickly became a coach and, before the first practice, had built 3 bocce courts that have become permanent fixtures at the club. Bud jumped in completely and has never looked back. Additionally, Bud helped plan a BBQ at the end of the first season which included members of the club and Special Olympics athletes.

Bud volunteered to attend Summer Games that year and it changed his life. He said he caught the bug and Special Olympics is now a part of him. On the bus ride back from Summer Games, one of the athletes asked Bud if he would coach Floor Hockey and Bud responded by saying, "When do we practice?"

The next season I asked Bud what he thought about the SBLBC hosting a bocce tournament and he said that he couldn't wait and he would recruit members to provide lunch (BBQ) for all the athletes. That tournament was the first Bocce tournament we hosted and has since grown each season.

Bud's involvement in Special Olympics goes beyond coaching. Bud joined our Games Management Team and twice helped run the bocce competition at the Give-A-Palooza fundraiser in Santa Barbara. One of Bud's favorite weekly activities as a member of the Santa Barbara Blasters, a team that competes in the bocce league at Arnoldi's restaurant. What makes the Blasters special is that they are a unified team, combined of Special Olympics coaches and athletes who compete against members of the community. Last year they advanced to the 2nd round of the playoffs and aim to go further this year. Lastly, Bud is always willing to help out where needed. When he found out we needed bowling coaches last fall he volunteered and was at every practice and competition. Bud also marches in the Holiday Parade, attended the LA Rams football clinic and is an outspoken supporter of Special Olympics. Bud is such an asset to our Santa Barbara team!