Special Olympics Michigan is launching the public phase of a fundraising campaign to transform the former South Christian High School into the world’s largest Special Olympics facility.
Leaders of the nonprofit on Thursday announced the $20 million Building Tomorrow’s Champions capital campaign at a news conference at the former high school and future site of the Special Olympics Unified Sports and Inclusion Center, at 160 68th St. SW in Cutlerville.
Founded in 1968, Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) provides year-round sports training and athletic competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities and serves more than 23,000 athletes and their families through 24 sports. With the help of over 32,000 volunteers, SOMI helps its athletes develop physical fitness and sports skills while deepening friendships with other athletes, coaches, volunteers and fans. The organization aims to bring people together, change attitudes and improve the region by including a population that often is marginalized.
Launched in 2020, the Building Tomorrow’s Champions campaign has raised more than $6.7 million over the past year to renovate the facility. Over 100 community donors, local businesses and area foundations have supported the campaign to date, including a 10-year, $600,000 commitment announced Thursday from Consumers Credit Union. Now the public is invited to join the effort.
SOMI leadership also highlighted at the event the partnering agencies that will lease space in the 127,000-square-foot facility. The agencies include:
- Autism Support of Kent County
- Brody’s Be Café
- Disability Advocates of Kent County
- Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan
- Far Out Volleyball Club
- Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan/be nice
Tim Hileman, president and CEO of Special Olympics Michigan, pointed to these partnerships as a key element of SOMI’s long-term plan to better serve those with disabilities in the region.
“From the beginning, our team set out with a plan to create a model of collaboration and an inclusive environment to support persons with disabilities,” he said. “By sharing the same facility, our partners can learn from each other, complement programs and services, and provide greater opportunities as we help to empower and build tomorrow’s champions.”
When finished, the renovated campus will feature new sports fields across the 17-acre property, expanded space for programming, administrative offices, and educational and wellness space for those served by Special Olympics and its partners.
The campus is anticipating hosting regional, statewide, national and international competitions that are expected to generate millions in economic development for West Michigan during the coming years.
At Thursday’s public announcement of the fund drive, Juliet Dragos, lead news anchor for WZZM 13, and Brian Calley, former lieutenant governor of Michigan and current president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, as well as operational chairs of the campaign, spoke about the campaign.
“As we work to provide the very best in programs for children, teens and adults, I’m so pleased to be part of an effort that brings such joy to our athletes and their families,” Dragos said. “When we open, we know that demand is going to surge as many families get involved with Special Olympics for the first time.”
Added Calley: “We’ve been so fortunate to receive many gifts to this important campaign, and to have accomplished this during the pandemic speaks volumes about West Michigan and the generosity of our community. Our campaign cabinet joins me in thanking our donors for their meaningful gifts. We now invite the larger community to help us complete this campaign effort. We welcome gifts of all sizes.”