It’s a long way from Seattle to Illinois State University, but Laborer David Hayes makes the trek annually to support Illinois Special Olympics (ISO) state games.
David was named "Volunteer of the Year" for his 38 years on the field with the athletes.
In 1978, at the urging of David Penn, Laborers Local 362 members began volunteering for ISO, as the state games made the transition from Soldiers’ Field in Chicago to Illinois State University in Normal. Union volunteers from various locals now participate. Over 4,000 athletes compete at the State Games, backed by 1,600 coaches and 2,500 volunteers.
35 years ago, the athletes were fewer and Hayes remembers that "the games were a little raw, now the athletes are coached and its quite an event in Normal."
Hayes was working as a construction Laborer when he first volunteered; he later worked for the Illinois Department of Labor and then became a Laborers’ international representative, assigned to the Omaha area, where he transferred his union card from Bloomington. Currently he is on special assignment to the Laborers’ Pacific Northwest region. No matter where he was working, State Games always found him back in his hometown.
David’s son Brian was with him this year at the games and his daughter Megan has assisted in the past. "For many of us, volunteering is a family affair," he said.
David supervises the track and field area, a two-and-a-half day commitment. A most enjoyable aspect is the returning athletes who greet him annually. This year he got a friendly greeting from a former athlete, now retired, who still comes back to the games.
ISO continues to grow and the games have become a major event. Yet Hayes has a very serious concern -- more union members need to volunteer. At one time 50-60 union members participated, but now the numbers have dwindled.
"We need those 20 and 30 year olds to come out," he said. "When you reach a certain age it takes a lot out of you."
"As union members, we have excellent wages, health care, pensions, so we need to give back to the community.
"At some point in your life you have to find something meaningful to do and give 24 hours to that cause in a year."
Special Olympics brightens the lives of cognitively disabled people and gives them a place to excel and prove themselves.
"All my experience are positive with Special Olympics. We are here for the athletes to provide the best, safest track event we can. Once you’ve come out to volunteer, you’ll be back again, I guarantee it."
(Photo: David Hayes is congratulated by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan during the Illinois Special Olympics award ceremony, Illinois State University, Normal, June 14, 2013.)