Special Olympics New York to Honor Three “Game Changers” for Athletes with Intellectual Disabilities

Honorees Highlighted for Work on Vaccinations, Leadership & State Support of Unified Sports

Event Hosted by Board Member Angelo Mazzone & Local Special Olympics Athletes Who Will Represent Team NY at 2022 USA Games

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – Three New Yorkers who have gone above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic to support people with intellectual disabilities will be honored by Special Olympics New York at a gala celebration this Friday evening in Saratoga.

Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country, serving more than 68,000 athletes across New York with year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health screenings. All Special Olympics New York programs are offered at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers.

“Our honorees have shown incomparable vision, dedication and leadership to help people with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other intellectual disabilities live a better life, strengthening our communities and our state,” said Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman. “They do more than talk the talk. Senator Mannion, Maureen O’Brien and Ceylane Myers-Ruff are true game changers who are helping to make New York the most inclusive state in the nation.”

A Night of Champions will be held FRIDAY, JULY 16 from 6-9:30 p.m. at Saratoga National Golf Club, 458 Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs.

Working media are welcome to attend. For others, tickets are available here. All proceeds are tax-deductible and benefit Special Olympics New York athletes in the Capital Region.

The 2021 Game Changers who will be honored at the event are:

Senator John Mannion (D-Onondaga/Cayuga), chair of the New York State Senate’s first-ever Committee on Developmental Disabilities. Elected to his first term in 2020, after a long career as a public school teacher, he has become a powerful voice in the state Legislature for people with disabilities of all kinds and in particular people with developmental disabilities.

Earlier this year, Senator Mannion announced $150,000 in state funding to help expand the Special Olympics New York’s Unified Champion Schools program, which uses sports as a catalyst to provide opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities to compete alongside one another. Working in partnership with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the program blends educational-based programming and high school athletics to promote inclusiveness, inspire youth leadership and encourage whole school engagement.

Maureen O’Brien and NYSID have been among Special Olympics New York’s most consistent and strongest partners over the last several years. In her role as NYSID’s CEO, Ms. O’Brien has provided yet further evidence of the benefits to society when people with disabilities are included in the workforce. Since 1975, NYSID and its member agencies and corporate partners across the state have employed thousands of workers with disabilities, providing quality products and services to customers.

During the pandemic, Ms. O’Brien, with the Capital Region Hub managed by Albany Medical Center and Center for Disability Services, helped make it possible for people with developmental disabilities and the workers who support them to get vaccinated. This included a special vaccination clinic for Special Olympics athletes and coaches.

Ceylane Meyers-Ruff stepped up as Special Olympics New York Board chair at the beginning of the pandemic, which was not an easy time to take on that leadership role. Ms. Meyers-Ruff saw the organization through all the challenges the pandemic presented – from budget management to health and safety for athletes to finding innovative ways to virtually support our athletes.

In her role as Deputy State Education Commissioner, Ms. Meyers-Ruff oversees 25 district offices across the state that ensure delivery of services that are consistent with ACCES-VR’s mission to assist individuals with disabilities to achieve and maintain employment, and to support independent living through training, education, rehabilitation and career development.

This is the second year Special Olympics New York has honored “game changers.” The 2019 honorees were: Tim Van Heusen (local athlete); Heather Briccetti, President and CEO, The Business Council of New York State; Peter Mesh (local tennis coach); Chris Hughes (local powerlifting coach); Andrew Guelcher, President, Mohawk Chevrolet; and Kevin Banes, Lobbyist, Statewide Public Affairs.

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About Special Olympics New York

Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country, serving more than 68,000 athletes across New York with year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health screenings. The organization also partners with about 250 schools statewide to offer Unified Sports, where students with and without disabilities compete as teammates. All Special Olympics New York programs are offered at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers. The organization has earned the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.com, making it one of the most trusted charities in the business nationally. For additional information about Special Olympics New York, to learn more about getting involved, or to make a donation, visit www.specialolympicsNY.org.

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