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Special Olympics Southern California celebrates Pier del Sol for special athletes

By Melonie Magruder
Special to Bayside Beat/Surf Santa Monica

October 11, 2010 -- The Special Olympics Southern California celebrated its 14th Annual Pier Del Sol event Sunday, with a Hawaiian Paradise theme and plenty of gourmet tastings available for the hundreds who visited the pier, all to benefit an organization that has helped some 13,000 athletes during the past 13 years.

Santa Monica Pier. Photos by Melonie Magruder

The family-friendly fundraiser, co-sponsored by the Disney Company, Jakks Cares, Wells Fargo and Westfield Works Wonders, featured Hawaiian bands, hula dancers, an inviting Silent Auction, unlimited spins on pier rides and games and mouthwatering appetizers from restaurants across the county.
Hawaiian dancers

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, mother of California’s First Lady Maria Shriver, launched the concept of Special Olympics in 1963 as a day camp for people with intellectual disabilities. As witness to the challenges faced by such citizens (her sister Rosemary was severely developmentally disabled), Kennedy Shriver believed that physical fitness and sports helped foster confidence and skill. Her daughter carried over her leadership to the Southern California branch of Special Olympics and serves as honorary chair of SOSC.

On a cloudless day with temperatures in the 80s, the Santa Monica Pier was given over to three dozen of Los Angeles’ top restaurants and chefs who offered samples of their specialties.

Fig, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel’s restaurant, featured Chilaquiles with braised chicken and queso fresco. Chef Raymond Garcia works with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Get Moving” campaign and fresh and healthful is obviously the order of the day.

Duke’s Malibu had Ahi Tacos in crisp wontons and local Italian favorite Valentino presented Eggplant Parmesan with red beet dressing and Frugula – a sort of Sardinian couscous.

For those palates less sophisticated, Pink’s Hot Dogs were on hand, along with Dandy Don’s homemade ice cream.

In a Silent Auction heavy on sports memorabilia and spa packages, a tribute to the “Twilight” series hysteria was the highlight. A five-foot long red wool cloak featured in the film and autographed by the film’s stars (including Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart) spurred envious gasps from young girls and bidding was intense among heavily-lobbied parents. For the losers, consolation bid items included a framed poster signed by 15 of the film’s actors.

Special Olympics Southern California has raised some $5 million since its first Pier del Sol benefit in 1997, including more than $315,000 this year. Proceeds have gone to training 13,000 southland athletes with developmental disabilities and in doing so, have “helped develop confidence, find lifelong friends and transform communities,” SOSC Chairman Patrick McClenahan said.

The 2010 Pier del Sol honoree was Tony Buzzelli, vice chairman and regional managing partner for the Pacific southwest of Deloitte, LLP, a major sponsor of the event.

Buzzelli said that his mother-in-law had dedicated her life for the past 55 years to helping intellectually challenged people and that, with his wife following in her footsteps, he was pretty much obliged to pitch in.

“Maria, I’m sure the Governor knows what I’m talking about,” Buzzelli said ruefully to Shriver amidst general laughter.Maria Shriver

When event emcee Frank Buckley, co-anchor of KTLA Morning News, introduced California’s First Lady, he said, “I knew Maria 25 years ago when I was just starting in the business and she was a famous television journalist. Even then, she was hard working and cool.”

Shriver took pains to thank Buzzelli and Deloitte for their support of working women and gave a special shout-out to the restaurants for their volunteer efforts, saying, “I always gain five pounds here. It’s why I’m wearing stretch jeans.

“My mom would be so thrilled with today’s event,” Shriver continued. “But she would also say, ‘This is a great success but there’s a lot more to do.”

Shriver spent some time urging companies to see people with intellectual disabilities as “individuals” who can function as valuable employees, and encouraging the public to empathize with the difficulties families face in children with special needs.Maria Shriver and Olga Ortega

“There’s been a lot of talk about bullying in the news lately,” Shriver said. “People with intellectual disabilities are particularly subject to that. A label like ‘retard’ is so painful and it prevents us from getting past that barrier to seeing the unique people they are.”

Shriver took a moment to recognize Anita Green and Vivian Alberts, co-chairs of the Pier del Sol Organizing Committee.

“These women are real Minervas,” Shriver said. “Minerva was the warrior goddess of justice, peace and poetry. These women are architects of change.”

Shriver also gave a shout-out to her brother, Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver, who made his way to the stage carrying daughter Rosemary on his shoulders.

“Santa Monica is so proud to be associated with Special Olympics Southern California,” he said. “Our city police and fire fighters have worked so hard to help realize this event. Give them a thank you on your way out.”

Olga Ortega, a 22-year employee of Westfield, was recognized as Volunteer of the Year for her help in organizing and running the Arts and Crafts stand that entertained so many youngsters.

As Buckley urged spectators to explore the Silent Auction and consider sponsoring a Special Olympics athlete, he reminded everyone of the Special Olympics motto, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Bobby and Rosemary Shriver


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