On Sunday February 21, Character and Thought Foundation will host a Project UNIFY Community Awareness Day featuring internationally known athlete and speaker Loretta Claiborne. The event is from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm at North Collier Regional Park and will feature sports, games, music, Chinese auction, food, haircut-a-thon, and more!
Everyone is welcome, and admission is free. Donations will be gladly accepted, with all proceeds benefitting Special Olympics Florida – Collier County and Character and Thought Foundation.
Ms. Claiborne, a Special Olympics athlete since 1970, is a world-class competitor who shares her life story with a heart-felt message of acceptance, hope, and tolerance. Born with both a physical and an intellectual disability, she did not walk or talk until she was four years old. She learned to persevere in spite of her disabilities, and in spite of the bullying, teasing, and anger that she experienced as a child. She credits Special Olympics as the positive force that turned her life around. Her motto is “God is my strength, Special Olympics is my joy”.
Ms. Claiborne has competed in more than 26 marathons, finishing in the top 100 female runners in the Boston Marathon twice. She won gold medals in the 1991 and 1999 Special Olympics World Games half-marathon. She communicates in four languages and holds honorary doctorate degrees from both Villanova University and Quinnipiac University.
In 1996, she appeared on ESPN’s “ESPY” Awards show, where she received the coveted Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. In 2000, ABC released a Wonderful World of Disney film, “The Loretta Claiborne Story,” based on Ms. Claiborne’s life.
Ms. Claiborne is a passionate advocate for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. She has traveled throughout Africa, where she joined former South African President Nelson Mandela to bring awareness of the benefits of Special Olympics and to recruit new athletes as a part of Special Olympics’ global growth campaign.
She is also a strong supporter of Project UNIFY, a Special Olympics initiative that uses sports and education to encourage students to help create communities that accept everyone. Project UNIFY encourages all young people, with and without disabilities, to participate in athletic and leadership activities together.
Five Collier County high schools – Golden Gate, Immokalee, Lely, Naples, and Palmetto Ridge – currently participate in Project UNIFY. A grant to Special Olympics Florida – Collier County from the Naples Children & Education Foundation, founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, helps fund Project UNIFY in Collier County.