Palmyra is ready to cheer on New Jersey’s Special Olympic athletes participating in this year’s summer games. Ahead of the games, which run from June 7 to 9, several athletes from the borough and surrounding towns were recognized during a council meeting last month, and on Saturday, June 1, the Palmyra Community Center Program Board hosted a family craft activity where participants created encouraging signs for the torch run.
The May 6 council meeting began with a proclamation presented by Mayor Michelle Arnold, recognizing athletes from the Burlington County Special Services School District competing in the Special Olympics Summer Games. Emily Payne from Riverton, Ahziah Harvey from Marlton and Ean Sykes of Palmyra were each presented with a copy of the proclamation and a Team USA tote bag for their participation in the games.
The torch run is the lead event for the summer games. To prepare for the run coming through Palmyra, the community center’s program board organized a family craft activity making custom torch signs highlighting their special needs athlete, family member or their support for New Jersey Special Olympics and the summer games.
Kate Johnson, special education art teacher at Orchard Friends School in Riverton, lent her abilities as an art educator and helped run the volunteer activity. She is a familiar face at the community center where she also teaches art classes.
“The kids I teach usually cheer on the torch run so I was already familiar with the run,” said Johnson. “I really enjoy seeing the combination of special ed and art, having kids create things on their own as independently as they can.”
In addition to spreading encouragement to the athletes and those running in the torch run, Johnson hoped the signs would help spread awareness to people unfamiliar with the Special Olympics.
Lee Stoner of the program board organized the event along with Michele Sykes, scheduling coordinator for the community center. For Stoner, the craft seemed to line up perfectly with the program board’s mission.
“The program board tries to advertise as something for everyone, and we wanted to do something for our special needs families, so that’s how the craft came about,” said Stoner.
“We have a population here that hasn’t really had much attention, so with this kickoff we want to highlight them more. We’re finding more and more families here and we want to bring them together and let them know they have the support of the community,” said Sykes, who was joined by her son Ean, one of the athletes recognized at the council meeting last month.
Another of Palmyra’s special olympians at the event, Connor Dowdy, worked on several signs adorned with an impressive collection of medals he had won competing in last year’s games.
Dowdy competes in floor hockey, flag football and softball. His team won silver for floor hockey, and gold for flag football and softball. Although he feels a bit of pressure to make this another winning year, Dowdy is happy just for the opportunity to compete.
“It’s all about the experience and the joy you have with your friends,” said Dowdy.