Santa Barbara does its part for Special Olympics World Games

The Santa Barbara Host Town organizing committee has spent the better part of a year preparing for this summer's World Games.

The Santa Barbara Host Town organizing committee has spent the better part of a year preparing for this summer’s World Games. Pictured are (L to R): Ernesto Paredes, Butch Arnoldi, Anu Sharma, Nancy Samson, Nancy Phinney, Sue McCue, Michelle Duke, Gina Carbajal, Melinda Harriman, Jerry Siegel, Catharine Manset, Aaron Brown. (Courtesy Photo)


Culture, parties and great food. The 100 Special Olympics athletes visiting Santa Barbara this month for the World Games are in for a treat thanks to the efforts of the Special Olympics Santa Barbara Host Town Committee.

The group of community leaders has been very busy for close to a year now, taking on a huge commitment to ensure that the 2015 Special Olympics World Games athletes are comfortable with their new surroundings while getting a taste of the local culture and flavor of the city.

Coming to Santa Barbara are athletes from four different countries (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and St. Kitts and Nevis). The Host Town program has been a vital element of the Special Olympics World Games since 1995. This year’s World Games, featuring a total of 7,000 athletes from 170 countries, are in Los Angeles from July 25 – August 2.

The Santa Barbara Host Town Committee comprises an incredible group of passionate volunteers collaborating with the community in an endeavor that promises to educate people and empower the athletes. A lot of work has gone into each monthly meeting, explains Committee Chair Jerry Siegel.

Michelle Duke, who holds several roles as a Host Town Committee member and is also the liaison for Special Olympics Santa Barbara, illustrates the importance of Santa Barbara being a host town this year, “I hope  individuals in our community are able to connect with the greater purpose of Special Olympics and realize that by hosting 100 international athletes, we are making a significant contribution to a movement much greater than our regional programs.”


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In order to be a Host Town, local communities are assessed based on lodging accommodations, sports practice facilities and recreational offerings for the athletes. There must be a Host Town Committee, which is responsible for all of the activity planning and introducing the athletes and coaches to the community in which they are staying.

As Host Town committee Chair, Jerry Siegel explains, “We are so very excited about welcoming the athletes to Santa Barbara and look forward to showing off our beautiful city and we feel honored that the Santa Barbara community will be supporting the athletes and celebrating their courage, determination and joy.”

Siegel and Duke were the first two members to join the committee. As a UCSB student, Duke became involved with the local Special Olympics and began volunteering as a youth soccer coach. She then became a marketing and communications intern at the regional office which led to a full-time position upon graduation.

“My involvement with the Host Town committee was a natural way for me to support the incredible volunteers in the Santa Barbara community,” Duke says.

Siegel also felt this way, and quickly became committee chair. Siegel had met with the World Games staff to discuss what the needs and requirements were for the Host Town Committee. It became a group of 12 volunteers who share responsibility and have different roles.

“Every organization and individual we have approached and asked for help has been only too happy to respond, starting with Mayor Helene Schneider who early on fully supported Santa Barbara’s efforts to become a Host Town,” Siegel says.

Siegel, Duke and Catharine Manset (Committee Co-Chair) went on to recruit various members of the community, some whom have been involved with regional Special Olympics for many years, to form a team. Members were selected to fill specific positions and chosen based on connections in the community, their skills and interests in making Santa Barbara a wonderful Host Town for these incredible athletes to experience. The rest of committee fell into place shortly thereafter and the work began.

The World Games staff told the committee that there were certain prerequisites Santa Barbara needed to meet.

Dr. Gayle Beebe, President of Westmont College, offered to provide free lodging, meals and training facilities to athletes without hesitation, “the unbridled willingness of the Westmont College staff to support Host Town Santa Barbara is truly commendable,” says Duke.

With lodging in place, all of the other prerequisites, including safety and medical, began to come together and the committee began planning the fun cultural events for the athletes to partake in.

As Catharine Manset shares, The Santa Barbara Zoo and The Museum of Natural History have opened their doors and are preparing special programs geared to the athletes. Easy Lift will provide free transportation. The local sheriff’s office will provide security through Lieutenant Butch Arnoldi. A doctor from the SB Neighborhood Clinic is overseeing medical. Montecito Bank and Trust, Pacific Western Bank and American Riviera Bank, SBART, Union Bank, Edward Jones and more are providing the funds to facilitate the four cultural events.

“We feel extremely fortunate to have had such an amazing amount of support from the local community,” explains Duke.

There are four scheduled cultural events over the span of 2 days:
July 22 from 1-4pm: Museum of Natural History
July 22 from 6-9pm: Cabrillo Arts Dinner and Dance
July 23 from 1-4pm: Santa Barbara Zoo
July 23 from 6-9pm: Leadbetter Beach Barbecue

Siegel is looking forward to seeing the athletes enjoy Santa Barbara the way the locals do and great thought went into each cultural event to truly showcase what our city has to offer. In addition to the cultural events, there will also be an athletic training event open to the public at Westmont College on July 22nd where other local athletes and public figures will be present.

Using sports as a true catalyst around health and education while empowering the athletes, The 2015 Special Olympics World Games is an inspirational movement.

Duke is a firm believer.

“To me, the World Games are the epitome of what Special Olympics aims to spread throughout and beyond the communities it serves: possibility and inspiration. Being a part of the Host Town Committee and a part of Special Olympics is a way to show support of the courage and perseverance of athletes involved. Acknowledging their hard work and the obstacles they overcome each day as individuals sends a powerful message throughout our community,” Duke says.

The Santa Barbara Host Town Organizing and Fundraising committee consists of the following individuals:

Jerry Siegel, Host Town Co-Chair
Catharine Manset, Host Town Co-Chair
Michelle Duke, SOSB Staff
Lt. Butch Arnoldi, Sheriff’s Office Law Enforcement Liaison
Ernesto Paredes, Easy Lift Transportation Chair
Aaron Brown, Edward Jones Chair, Leadbetter BBQ Event
Nancy Samson, New Directions Chair, Cabrillo Arts Dinner Dance
Laurie Leighty, American Riviera Bank Chair, Museum of Natural History Event,
Sue McCue, Volunteer Coach Chair, SB Zoo Event
Dr. Anu Sharma, SB Neighborhood Clinic, Medical Liaison
Melinda Harriman, Director of Conferences and Campus Scheduling, Westmont College
Nancy Phinney, Director of Communications, Westmont College