Olympian Rafer Johnson Connects With Special Olympics

Olympic gold medal winner Rafer Johnson has attached himself to the cause of Special Olympics.
Olympic gold medal winner Rafer Johnson has attached himself to the cause of Special Olympics.

By Dennis J. Freeman

Studio City-For Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson, giving back is the right thing to do. If fact, the 1960 Olympic decathlon winner declares that reaching back to help others should be a no-brainer for anyone who had help themselves along their own life’s journey.

Growing up in Kingsburg, California, a small town in Fresno County, Johnson got a first-hand view on volunteerism and reaching back to help young people. Since that kind of teaching was embedded in him as a youngster, Johnson has lived and devoted most of his life to helping young people become the best they can be.

Johnson has especially taken to helping young people challenged with intellectual disabilities. For the past 42 years, Johnson has put his own personal stamp on the lives of thousands of young people as the founder of the California Special Olympics. Now a member on the board of directors of the the Special Olympics Southern California (SOSC), Johnson is still doing his thing with the young folks.

“I grew up in a little town, and the one thing I loved there was that they considered what children were doing,” Johnson said. “The teachers, the coaches and people in the community really became influential men and women who loved their children. They always talked about being the best you can be. Not only did they talk about it, they helped the young people get opportunities so they can be the best they can be, both in sports and in the classroom, through volunteering efforts. I grew up with that. So that’s what my whole life has been about.”

Nowadays, Johnson makes pitches for donations and stumps the city for funds to keep the many Special Olympics programs going. The SOSC have held a million-dollar house raffle the last two years to bring in additional funding for the program.

This year, SOSC is offering a $2.2 million home as part of its Dream House Raffle to raise money for SOSC. The price is $150 per ticket. The early bird entry of the raffle closes on Feb. 18. The absolute deadline for purchasing raffle tickets is May 13. The drawing will be held May 28. If the winner chooses not to take the home, there is a $1.5 million cash payout to that individual instead.

The SOSC made over $700,000 from last year’s raffle drawing. The SOSC took a gamble to raffle off the million dollar home last year. It worked so well that the SOSC is considering using it as a major fundraising tool in the future, said SOSC President and CEO Bill Shumard.

“It took a big step out of the box for us to do this in 2010,” said Shumard. “This is pretty entrepreneurial. It’s pretty aggressive. A lot of nonprofits aren’t quite willing to go that far out of the box. We kind of felt like that desperate times require desperate measures. It was wildly successful for us in 2010. This is the horse we’ve got to ride for the foreseeable future.”

Special Olympics Southern California President and CEO Bill Shumard with two Special Olympics athletes./Dennis J. Freeman/news4usonline.com

One way the SOSC is planning on making the home raffle more visible and viable to the public is utilizing the services of Johnson as a spokesman. It is because of Johnson that thousands of athletes have had a chance to participate in activities they otherwise would dream about. The SOSC is no longer a dream.

The SOSC is a reality that now represents 11 counties in Southern California. The Special Olympics itself have prospered to 180 countries and 3 million athletes worldwide. Those numbers are nice, but Johnson sees a greater need.

There’s more outreach to be done to bring in more intellectually disabled individuals into the Special Olympics program. There’s the need for the SOSC program to own and operate its own facilities. There’s a need to keep funding flowing to keep the program’s mission true.

But in order to do all of that, like any other organization trying to ride out the stagnant economy, the SOSC could benefit from an influx of monetary contributions in its fundraising efforts. The home raffle is just one option the SOSC is using. Advocating volunteer work is another idea, said Johnson.

“Somehow, I think that is the way we should all go,” Johnson said. “That’s what I’ve decided to do with my volunteer life…If I help raise a few dollars, if I can speak somewhere, if I talk to groups that are interested in volunteering or raising funds, then I am going to do it because you can really touch a life in a special way as people touched my life along the way. I just want to give something back because I benefitted from people helping me.”

For more information about the house raffle, please go to www.socalraffle.com.

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1138 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a proud alum of Howard University.

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