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Volunteer Spotlight, Sandy Kuykendall

Sandy Kuykendall is one of Special Olympics Oregon’s most dedicated volunteers, and she loves every minute of spending time with the athletes. “The athletes are so open and friendly,” she said, “they give us lessons that we can learn from. We go into it thinking that we are the ones helping, and then we realize that the very essence of humanity is being kind to one another and helping to lift each other up.”

Her service to SOOR spans four decades, and she was also the first female volunteer for the Kiwanis Club of Ashland, joining in 1990. From officiating sports like bocce and basketball, to providing lunches for athletes and volunteers, she is known for her huge impact on the local community.

“I first became involved in volunteering for Special Olympics Oregon at a regional tournament in the winter of 1991,” she said, “the Kiwanis Club of Ashland was hosting a basketball tournament in Ashland and a skiing tournament at Mt. Ashland. That night there was a big dance for the athletes of both sports with a big disco ball! I didn’t realize how important this all was. The excitement and the concentration of the athletes was evident.  Each one tried their best and was rewarded by their teammates with words or smiles of encouragement. I see athletes congratulating others and being happy for others’ success in all sports. I was so inspired by the level of skill and confidence I could see the athletes develop!”

She makes a point to note that she is a volunteer, not a coach, and has deep respect for SOOR’s coaches. She said, “I’m just a person that volunteers at different events, but there are so many good coaches for SOOR! One of our coaches, Josh Brown, started out with basketball, became a Unified coach, then went back to school, got his degree, made a career change, and became a special education teacher- he is still involved to this day.”

The ‘why’ for Sandy comes easy when it comes to volunteering for SOOR. “I am honored to do it. People just love it. To see the smile – sometimes it’s a grin – and the joy and sportsmanship that these athletes have, we don’t see this with competitive sports as much. They are all so caring and aware of each other. The sportsmanship and heart of the athletes is remarkable. I’ve seen an athlete pick up another athlete from another team off the floor in basketball and another help a fallen athlete up from the track during a race rather than running past him. It’s a wonderful thing.”

When it comes to the Polar Plunge event, she loves to support it, but not by jumping in herself but rather by paying key clubbers of the Ashland Kiwanis Club to jump in. “It makes it fun for the kids,” she said, it’s good to have other people jump in that cold water!” she laughed.

Sandy would encourage everyone to join as a volunteer for Special Olympics Oregon. “I hope this inspires other people to volunteer. It is a delight to be able to do this. Nice for families to do together. Share your smiles and make a difference to someone who is a passionate person ready to do their best. You don’t have to know the sport like their coach, but your appreciation of their performance makes their day and that can make your day!”