Emily Riley had to settle a couple of “ifs” before she became the Special Olympics coordinator for Cabarrus County three years ago.When she was in high school and college, Riley enjoyed being a Special Olympics volunteer so much she thought she might like to be a local coordinator someday “if” a job ever came open.When she was a special-education teacher at Mount Pleasant High School in 2003-04, she said she would welcome an invitation to join Cabarrus County’s steering committee “if” she ever changed jobs and it freed more time for her.Both doors eventually opened for her.After spending several years on the Cabarrus steering committee, Riley was named local coordinator in 2010. It obviously was a good fit: On Aug. 8, Riley was recognized as the 2013 Special Olympics of North Carolina’s Coordinator of the Year.Riley, 35, was selected by a state-level committee and presented her award at the SONC Leadership Conference at the Statesville Civic Center. Kelly Embler, the Cabarrus County coordinator Riley replaced in 2010, won the award in 2008.“There is no better job for me than being the Special Olympics coordinator in the county I grew up in,” said Riley. “It was just a huge honor. To do what I like to do and be honored for it is huge. To be able to serve these individuals is just an amazing thing.”Special Olympics of Cabarrus County has long relied on high school volunteers to help with its Spring Games, a track and field event held every April. As a 1996 Northwest Cabarrus High graduate, Riley fondly remembers the connections she made with some of the athletes at that time.As a student at UNC Chapel Hill, Riley continued to volunteer with Special Olympics. Additionally, she became involved in a “buddy” program in which she mentored a special-needs adult.She taught at Mount Pleasant High for a year and a half before taking a job with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. As a result, she took up Embler’s invitation to join the Special Olympics of Cabarrus County’s steering committee.Embler recommended Riley for her job when she left to become executive director of Carolinas Autism Speaks in 2010.There are 96 local Special Olympics programs throughout the state. Some of the coordinators are paid staff and some are volunteers.Through a partnership of local governments, Riley’s position is funded by Cabarrus County, but she works under the supervision of Cabarrus County Schools. Her office is at Hickory Ridge High School in Harrisburg.Cabarrus County has an active participation of approximately 750 Special Olympics athletes and sponsors 16 different sports.In her three years, Riley initiated a new athlete focus meeting to increase awareness of the local program. Under her leadership, the county added two new sports: speed roller skating and alpine skiing.Riley oversees an annual budget of about $40,000. The local program raises funds to finance registrations, purchase equipment and operate the annual Spring Games by writing grants, hosting an annual bunko event, and selling T-shirts and concessions.Lindsay Waldron, now the SONC vice president of field services, oversaw the SONC’s Southern Piedmont region last year when she nominated Riley for regional coordinator of the year. She says Riley earning state coordinator of the year was an easy task.“She’s always there to help with everything we need for Special Olympics,” said Waldron. “I think she has a true heart and passion. She really cares about her athletes and the programs. “She has really gone above and beyond with fundraising. She’s used her expertise with grant writing and connections in Cabarrus County to pull in local contacts.”Special Olympics of Cabarrus County is hosting a sports interest meeting and registration 6:30-7:30 p.m. Sept. 3 at Fire Station No. 9 at 1020 Ivey Cline Road in Concord.For more information about Special Olympics, contact Riley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-454-7300.
Friday, Aug. 30, 2013
Cabarrus Special Olympics’ Emily Riley honored
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at email@example.com.
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